Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Lynn Hesse: The Forty Knots Burn - an excerpt

Lynn Hesse won the 2015 First Place Winner, Oak Tree Press, Cop Tales, for her mystery, Well of Rage, a crime novel about a female rookie cop accused of mishandling evidence by her white-supremacist training officer, then tasked with solving the cold case murder of an African American teenager. Her second novel, Another Kind of Hero, was a finalist for the 2018 Silver Falchion Award and won the International Readers’ Chill Award in 2021. The mystery unfolds when a casket full of drugs and money found in the Pick’n Pay in Forsyth, Georgia, put two contentious sisters and an undercover DEA agent in jeopardy.

Her 2022 suspense release, The Forty Knots Burn, is based on the turmoil created by a maintenance man coming into the women’s dressing room at the author’s local wellness center and is fueled by Hesse’s intense desire to help the underdog or the outcast as exemplified by her dandelion performance persona. Her recurring interest in flamenco dance sparked her intense research in Roma culture.

A retired police lieutenant, Hesse draws from her experiences on the force to create gripping plot twists and multi-dimensional characters. She enjoys a daily yoga practice, and as an accomplished dancer she performs with several dance and theatrical troupes in Atlanta, Georgia.

The Forty Knots Burn: A con artist trio are stuck in Atlanta without funds when the oldest member has a heart attack and suddenly dies. Clara Shannesy Blythe and her adopted Uncle Roman are crushed at their mentor's death, but she must take over the reins of a cutthroat crew and pull off the risky art heist of an Edward Hopper painting. She falls in love for the first time at twenty-seven and realizes too late Hernando is the Hopper painting's forger and his brother is the man trying to kill her.


Following the judgmental locker queen for a while after work sounded like a fun idea. Because of information afforded by Sadye Mitchell’s nametag and the whiteboard in the office — the preoccupied director had left the door open the last time I worked out — I knew Sadye’s workday ended in about an hour, barely enough time to drive our rental car across town and wait. Roman wouldn’t want to leave Victor, but I would tell him a half-truth, that I was smitten and was vetting a man as a possible suitor. Relaying the details to Roman in a way that suggested the spry Sadye might be Hernando’s mother and not insult my adopted uncle’s common sense would be a challenge, but he would say nothing. He loved me, and we, the tribe of only three, rarely made friends or paramours on our layovers.

I hadn’t had a real lover in several years because the background checks were a headache, but I indulged in anonymous one-night stands with Roman as my bodyguard waiting in the wings in case anything went sour. According to Roman, as is the Roma custom, everyone, especially women, should be married. The fact that none of us pretended to be celibate or have any interest in marriage didn’t seem to sway his opinion.

Roman sat with his back to the entrance in the cafeteria, eating a double portion of chili and beans heaped over spaghetti. After I sat down he studied my body language. He saw that I caught on to what he was doing, stood, and grabbed an extra napkin from a nearby counter.

When he returned, I said, “I’m fine, Roman. Really, I am. Victor will be better soon, and we can move on.”

“Okay, but you seem antsy pants.” He shrugged his wide Russian shoulders. “Nervous. Five months is long time. The longest we ever stay in one place since—”

“London, when Victor’s mother died. You are perceptive. This time it’s another delicate matter making me restless. There’s a guy from the center where I swim. I need … I mean I want to check him out.” I intentionally looked down at the table and hesitated before I continued. “He works at the gym.”

“What does he do, this Romeo?”

“That’s it. He doesn’t know I like him. He and his mom work in housekeeping or maybe maintenance at the gym.” I realized how easily I’d lied and tied Hernando to Sadye to eliminate the necessity of explaining why I yearned to pay back this horrible woman for insulting me and hitting Hernando. I babbled on. “I’ve even got her phone number from the community board where she posted a housekeeper-available ad with her photo.”

“Victor won’t like this man for you. Not a good idea.”

“I am a big girl. Besides, we won’t be here much longer.” I locked gazes with Roman. “He seems like a nice guy. Very polite and kind of shy. Do you realize how long it has been since I went on a date? Uncle Rom, I could do it myself, but—”

“Jobs require two of us. We agreed is safer.” He placed both hands on the edge of the table and squinted before he picked up his fork and waved it around. “You are twenty-seven?”

He knew my age, but I went along with the game and nodded.

“For many years I watch you. No romance. Not healthy. You need to settle down, but not with this gadje. Rom with Rom andgadje with gadje.”

I tried to object about using a slang term for non-Roma people, but my uncle held up a palm, stopping me. He took another bite of food, chewed, and swallowed before he answered. “Okay, I agree. But only while Victor’s sick. Won’t hurt anyone to watch this nice guy and his family to gain their favor. Outsiders have their uses for Romas.” He rubbed his fingertips together, indicating outsiders had cash, and then added, “So you talk to boss and tell him about your … janitor.”

“You got it.” I leaned across the table and touched his hairy forearm. “You’re the best. Better than best.” 

“You still my Tinkerbelle?”

Grinning at him and feeling like the flighty, shrieking adolescent I was when Roman first met me, and later took me to see the Disney movie Peter Pan, I said, “You bet.” He’d coined my pet name after commenting on how short I was and my inability to sit still, and then compared me to Disney’s flying fairy, Tinkerbelle or Tink.

He patted my hand and pushed his plate away. “When do we start this checking out guy?”

“We should’ve left already. Remind me to undo a curse just in case it took.”

Roman shook a finger at me. “Bad girl.”

“Come on,” I said. “His mother’s shift ends at five o’clock.” 

Learn more about Lynn Hesse at: 

Thursday, May 05, 2022

Interview: Kerry L. Peresta, author of The Rising

Kerry Peresta’s publishing credits include a popular newspaper column, “The Lighter Side,” (2009—2011), and magazine articles in Local Life MagazineThe Bluffton BreezeLady Lowcountry, and Island Events Magazine. She is the author of three published novels, The Hunting, women’s fiction, The Deadening, Book One of the Olivia Callahan Suspense Series, and The Rising, Book Two. Book Three in this series releases in 2023 by Level Best Books. She spent twenty-five years in advertising as an account manager, creative director, editor, and copywriter. She is past chapter president of the Maryland Writers’ Association and a current member and presenter of Hilton Head Island Writers’ Network, South Carolina Writers Association, and the Sisters in Crime organization. Kerry and her husband moved to Hilton Head Island, SC, in 2015. She is the mother of four adult children, and has a bunch of wonderful grandkids who remind her what life is all about. 

When did you know you wanted to become a writer?

I didn’t realize I wanted to become a writer until I started dating a man seventeen years ago that was a multi-published author of a suspense series. Our relationship did not move forward, but we became good friends. While we were together, I was entranced by the fact that he was an author. I wanted to know everything about it. It was a world unknown to me, but it drew me. Called out to me. I started thinking about what life was like over the past twenty, thirty years…I’d been in the advertising business as a designer and artist, account executive and copywriter. I’d loved the artistic aspect of it, but I was crazy about writing copy. It was so easy for me, and I loved crafting pictures with words. Funny, I didn’t even think of becoming an author at that time. Later, when my kids were grown, and I had time to breathe, I remembered how good it felt to write and how easy it had always been for me. The first thing I remember having published was a letter to the editor in 2009. And from that humble beginning, I was hooked.

What inspired you to create a character like Olivia Callahan and develop her quest for her past?

At an author event in 2013 for ‘The Hunting’, one of the other authors attracted most of the book buyers to her table while the rest of us just looked at each other. Finally, I had to find out what was so fascinating about this woman. She told me that she’d been in a car wreck a few years back, had fallen into a coma, and was unexpected to survive. After a year, she woke up! With a significant difference…her injury and the coma trauma had completely rewired her brain. Instead of shy and passive, her recovering neural pathways had changed her into a socially fluent, aggressive, confident woman. Which, of course, is attractive to people. I walked back to my table, thoughts spinning. All I could think about was what a great character that would make. I wrote the book…it took me three years or so to find a publisher, and now I’m on Book Three in the series. People love this character! And her journey is ever-changing.

What kind of research did you do to describe the results of real brain injury? 

I read several real-life accounts of TBI recovery, learned about resultant aphasia and speech issues and memory issues, depending on the part of the brain that had been injured. I read neurological studies, observed videos of TBI patients in recovery, in physical therapy. It was exciting – or a little sad – to realize that a victim of TBI will not have a recovery timeline or a particularly specific outlook. The brain is so incredible that it can repair itself in thousands of intricate ways. If one pathway is compromised, it will create a new pathway. Sometimes the patient is severely compromised and sometimes something incredible happens, as in Olivia’s case. It is widely understood in the medical community that the brain is so complex, the long-term effects of a TBI are unknown and only time will reveal the answer. In Olivia’s case, she is still suffering brain blips and deficits that are interfering with her determination to build a career, but she is overcoming her deficits admirably. There is, however, still an ‘unknown’ hanging over her…and she is not quite sure yet if her ever-evolving brain will land somewhere and be predictable.

How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

Great question! By the time I was convinced to do a series, I’d had a lot of instruction and had been exposed to awesome mentors that helped me define what genre I needed to write. It changed my process in that it is now much more specific. At the time I wrote my first book, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write women’s fiction, or suspense or crime thrillers. I just knew I really, REALLY, loved Law & Order, Criminal Minds, Chicago PD, etc. I also loved navigating the thorny issues of a flawed protagonist. My agent at that time helped me navigate the path to making THE DEADENING, Book One; fit into the suspense genre. This included holding off the suspense and inserting the big reveal at the end, making each chapter – or most of them – end on a cliff-hanger situation that made sure the reader kept turning pages. Also, to lay off the frilly descriptions of location and rooms and things and ramp up the action. Race through the dialogue. In my books now, I strive for a fast pace, dialogue that doesn’t bog down with too many metaphors or descriptions, and a satisfying, dizzying conclusion. I think every writer would say that each book they write makes them a better writer, because they learn more about it.

Okay, so you're an author. What do you enjoy reading?

I enjoy psychological suspense the most, but I also read crime thrillers and medical thrillers. THE SILENT PATIENT by Alex Michaelides, is probably at the top of my ‘best books ever read’ list right now. I also love medical thrillers, and Tess Gerritsen is a master. The Brits are absolutely brilliant at suspense, and one I am enjoying right now is Louise Jensen. Her books are thrilling. Also, I’ve read about every book Lee Child has written, and of course, Sue Grafton was my go-to back when she first started and I’ve read almost all of those as well. There are certainly endearing traits inspired by Kinsey Milhone in my current protagonist, Olivia.

Thank you so much for talking to me!

Learn more about The Rising below, and read an excerpt from the book!

The Rising by Kerry L Peresta Banner

The Rising

by Kerry L Peresta

May 1-31, 2022 Virtual Book Tour


The Rising by Kerry L Peresta

After an assault that landed her in a hospital as a Jane Doe two years earlier, Olivia Callahan has regained her speech, movement, and much of the memory she lost due to a traumatic brain injury. The media hype about the incident has faded away, and Olivia is ready to rebuild her life, but her therapist insists she must continue to look back in order to move forward. The only person that can help her recall specifics is her abusive ex-husband, Monty, who is in prison for murder. The thought of talking to Monty makes her skin crawl, but for her daughters’ sake and her own sanity, she must learn more about who she was before the attack.

Just as the pieces of her life start falling into place, she stumbles across the still-warm body of an old friend who has been gruesomely murdered. Her dream of pursuing a peaceful existence is shattered when she learns the killer left evidence behind to implicate her in the murder. The only person that would want to sabotage her is Monty—but he’s in prison! Something sinister is going on, and Olivia is desperate to uncover the truth before another senseless murder is committed.

Book Details:

Genre: Psychological Suspense, Thriller, Crime Fiction, Suspense, Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: March 29, 2022
Number of Pages: 300
ISBN: 168512092X (ISBN-13: 978-1685120924)
Series: Olivia Callahan Suspense, Book 2
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

“How low you fall points to how high you’ll rise.”
~Matshona Dhliwayo

The stark buildings and barbed-wire-topped walls surrounding the correctional facility reminded me of a Hitchcock movie.

My fingers tightened on the steering wheel. I found a parking spot, and waited in the car a minute, taking in the starkness and finality of a prison compound. My heart did a little lurch when I thought about Monty—my ex-husband and the father of my two daughters—inside. Incarcerated. I guess since I hadn’t seen him since his indictment, it didn’t seem real.

However, I’d learned that having sympathy for Monty was like having sympathy for a snake just before it sank its fangs. “It’s been eighteen months. You can keep it together with this psycho,” I hissed to myself. I hiked my purse onto my shoulder and walked out into the buttery sunshine toward the visitors’ entrance.

I presented my driver’s license, endured a frisk, offered my hand for the fingerprint process, and walked through the metal detector, which of course, went off. With stoic resignation, I endured another frisk, a few hard glances from the guards, and eventually pulled the culprit from the pocket of my pants, an aluminum foil candy bar wrapper.

While I waited for Monty at one of the small, circular tables in the visitors’ room, I scanned the list of do’s and don’ts. Hands must be visible at all times. Vulgar language not allowed. No passing anything to the prisoner. No jewelry other than a wedding band or religious necklace.

I stared at my hands, sticky with sweat. My heart beat in my throat.

I lifted my curls off my forehead and fanned my face with one hand. Three other visitors sat at tables. One woman with graying hair piled like a crown on her head stared at the floor. When she noticed that I was looking at her, she raised her head and threw me a sad smile. A younger woman at another table struggled to keep two young children under control, and an older couple with stress-lined faces whispered to each other as they waited. The room had tan, cinder block walls, a drop-in ceiling with grid tiles that probably hid video cameras, and a single door. No windows. A scrawny, fake plant in one corner made a half-hearted attempt at civility.

The metal door opened. My thoughts were mush, a blender on high. Could I do this? After two years of physical therapy, occupational therapy, and every other kind of therapy the docs could throw at me, shouldn’t I react better than this?

Remember, they’re only feelings.

I squared my shoulders. Wiped my palms on my pants.

As Monty offered his cuffed wrists to the corrections officer, he scanned the room under lowered eyelids. When he saw me, he gave me a scorched- earth glare. After the guard removed his handcuffs, he shook out his arms and rubbed his wrists. The raven-black hair was longer, and brushed his shoulders. He’d been working out. A lot. He wore a loose-fitting top and pants. Orange. As usual, he was larger than life, and in the bright white of the visiting space, surrounded by matching plastic tables and chairs, he was a raven-haired Schwarzenegger in a room full of Danny DeVito’s. I’d once had hope for reconciliation. The thought gave me the shakes now.

He dropped into the chair across from me and plopped his hands on the table. “What do you want?”

I spent a few seconds examining his face—this man I’d spent twenty, long years trying to please, and the reason I’d been assaulted and left for dead by Niles Peterson, a wreck of a man whose life Monty had destroyed as well.

The man responsible for my convoluted recovery from a brain injury that stole my past. Even after two years, I still had huge gaps in my memory, and staring at him felt like staring at a stranger instead of an ex-husband. “My therapist says I need to look back to move forward. I wanted to ask you a few questions, that’s all.”

“Okay,” he grumbled. “I’ll give you a few minutes. Oh, and you’ll love this. I have to attend counseling sessions about how to keep my ‘darker dispositions’ under control, and I have one of those in thirty minutes.”

Resisting a smile, I quipped, “Are they helping?” He rolled his eyes. “What are the questions?”

“I still have problems remembering stuff. There are things I need to… figure out about who I was before—”

“Before you hooked up with my ole’ buddy Niles?” he interrupted, with a smirk. “Before you threw away everything we had? Before you got yourself in a situation that could’ve gotten you killed? Before you started treating me like a piece of shit?”

I was careful not to react. I’d had enough therapy to understand how to treat a control freak that tried to make me the reason he ended up in prison. That part of my life—the part where Monty had been in charge and his spouse had to obey or else—was over. “Are you done?” I asked.

He clamped his lips together.

I folded my hands on the table and leaned in. “I’ll get right to the point. What drew you to me in the first place? What was I like before the accident, from your perspective?”

Monty tried to get comfortable in the plastic chair. Beneath his immense bulk, it seemed like a child’s chair. “Is that how you’re dealing with it?” His lips twisted in disgust. “It was an assault, Olivia. He tried to rape you, for God’s sake.”

I looked away. “It’s over, and he’s in the ground, thanks to you.”

He crossed his arms and glared. A corrections officer lifted his hand. With a grunt, Monty slapped both hands on the small table where the officer could see them.

After a few beats, he sneered, “You mean besides the obvious attraction of an older guy to a high school girl?” “Give me a break, Monty.”

He chuckled. “You were kind of…I don’t know…scared. I was drawn to you in a protective way. You were shy.”

I frowned. “What was I scared of?”

“Your crazy mom had married some jerk that kept you off balance all the time. Don’t you remember him?”

I thought for a few seconds. Nothing came.

“That coma still messes with you, doesn’t it? Well…might be good not to remember. Maybe he did things to you that he shouldn’t have.” Monty raised his eyebrows up and down.

I wanted to slap him, but I kept my expression neutral.

“A brain injury recovery is unpredictable. I still lose memories, even if someone has drilled them into me. I’m trying to use visualization. I have this feeling…that if I can see it, the rest will be like dominos.”

“So you may not ever remember? Even the good things about our marriage?”

I laughed. “We must have very different perspectives about the word ‘good’, Monty.”

Monty’s jaw muscles flexed. “Next?”

“Was I a capable mother? Was I available and…loving to the kids?”

Maybe it was my imagination, but his lower lip quivered. Did the guy have a heart after all? I’d always believed he loved our daughters. I hoped this was true.

“Olivia, you were a good mother. We had our problems, but you made a good home, and took excellent care of the kids. You were at every freakin’ event, every school fundraiser, everything.” He scowled. “I took a big back seat to the kids.”

“What problems did we have? When did they start?”

He leaned in. “You don’t remember our sex life? How terrible it was? Nothing I could do would get you to….” He shook his head. “You couldn’t even fix a decent meal. You should have been grateful you married someone like me so I could…teach you things.”


“Keep your voice down!” I insisted, embarrassed.

He cocked his head and grinned. “You always had this…desperate need for my approval or whatever. And when you conveniently avoided telling me you weren’t taking birth control it caused a lot of issues that could’ve been avoided.” He snorted. “Like being in here.”

I tried to rein in my disgust.

“So, let me get this straight. Your priority in our marriage was sex and good food and to pin all our issues on your child bride?” My tone hardened. “A young woman who came from a single-parent home? Who had no understanding what a good and normal guy was like?”

He gave me a look that could peel the skin off my face.

“How did you react when I didn’t do things the way you wanted?” I continued.

“Like any man who’d been disrespected. I corrected the issue.”

“How? By yelling? Physical force? Kicking your pregnant wife in the stomach?” This was a memory I had recovered.

A vein pulsed in his neck.

“How often, Monty? Were these reactions a…a lifestyle in our marriage?” “Look,” he snarled, “I don’t know that this is productive.”

“It is for me,” I said, brightly.

I glanced at the closest officer. He had his hands full with an issue at one of the other tables.

“Mom told me that Serena and Lilly floated out to sea one time, on a rubber raft. Do you remember that?”

His eyes found a spot on the wall.

“So you do remember. What happened?”

“Look, they were, I don’t know, four and six or so. I didn’t think it would be a problem for me to run grab a drink from our bag, and come back. I was gone less than five minutes. How could I know they’d lose control of the raft?”

An earthquake of anger shot through me. “You turned your back on a four-year-old and a six-year-old and expected them to have control of a raft? They were babies!”

“Yeah. Well.” He rose. “Looks like this question thing of yours isn’t working for me.” He pushed his chair in with a bang. The correctional officer gave him a look. Monty strode to the officer’s station and held out his wrists. Adrenaline made me a little shaky after he’d gone, but it wasn’t from fear of the man. My therapist would call this real progress.

I left the room and gathered my things from the visitors’ processing center. As I walked out of the prison facility, all I could think about was…why? Why had I married this guy? And stayed for twenty years? I couldn’t even remember myself as a person who could do that.

At least I’d dragged more information out of him. I was determined to piece together the puzzle of the past I’d lost.


Excerpt from The Rising by Kerry L Peresta. Copyright 2022 by Kerry L Peresta. Reproduced with permission from Kerry L Peresta. All rights reserved.


Kerry L Peresta

Catch Up With Kerry L Peresta:
BookBub - @kerryperesta
Instagram - @kerryperesta
Twitter - @kerryperesta
Facebook - @klperesta



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Thursday, April 21, 2022

Doing Research: the Tampa Bay Hotel

When Gwen Mayo and I work on the latest Three Snowbirds novel, we try to visit the sites that the ladies visit. Our next book, Ybor City Blues, is set in Tampa and Ybor City (Ybor City is part of Tampa now, but was a separate town in the 1920s).  

During their time in Tampa, Professor Pettijohn, Cornelia, and Teddy will be staying in the Tampa Bay Hotel, opened by rail baron Henry B. Plant in 1891. 

This hotel was one of eight built by Henry Plant along his rail lines to promote tourism. It had over five hundred rooms and was the place to be during the Gilded Age. Guests could enjoy the golf course, casino, stables, indoor heated swimming pool, and even a race track situated on the grounds. It even had its own flag!

Naturally, we paid special attention to the details of the guest and dining rooms, since our characters will be seeing a lot of them. 

A comfy place to sleep.

Table setting from the original dining room.
The hotel had its own silverware and dishes.

For entertainment on Sunday, Col. Harold B. Bachman's "Million-Dollar Band" provided music for the guests in the bandshell at Plant Park. They performed at the Park during the 1925-1927 winter seasons, often attracting crowds in the thousands. We plan to have some fun in this setting.

Why yes, that IS a cutout of Bachman!

I'm afraid that by the time of our book, the hotel was in its last decade of service. The family sold the hotel to the city of Tampa in 1905, a few years after Henry Plant died, and the city closed the hotel in 1930. The Tampa Bay Junior College moved into the space, but part of the hotel reopened as a museum in 1933, which is still open for touring. The rest of the hotel houses offices for the University of Tampa.

You can learn more about the Tampa Bay Hotel from Gwen Mayo's post, The Magic Kingdom of Henry Plant.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Murder, Sweet Murder by by Eleanor Kuhns

Murder, Sweet Murder by Eleanor Kuhns Banner

Murder, Sweet Murder

by Eleanor Kuhns

April 11 - May 6, 2022 Virtual Book Tour


Murder, Sweet Murder by Eleanor Kuhns

Will Rees accompanies his wife to Boston to help clear her estranged father's name in this gripping mystery set in the early nineteenth century.

January, 1801. When Lydia's estranged father is accused of murder, Will Rees escorts her to Boston to uncover the truth. Marcus Farrell is believed to have murdered one of his workers, a boy from Jamaica where he owns a plantation. Marcus swears he's innocent. However, a scandal has been aroused by his refusal to answer questions and accusations he bribed officials.

As Will and Lydia investigate, Marcus's brother, Julian, is shot and killed. This time, all fingers point towards James Farrell, Lydia's brother. Is someone targeting the family? Were the family quarreling over the family businesses and someone lashed out? What's Marcus hiding and why won't he accept help?

With the Farrell family falling apart and their reputation in tatters, Will and Lydia must solve the murders soon. But will they succeed before the murderer strikes again?

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Mystery
Published by: Severn House Publishers
Publication Date: February 1st 2022
Number of Pages: 224
ISBN: 0727850091 (ISBN13: 9780727850096)
Series: Will Rees Mysteries #11
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

After regarding Rees for several seconds, Mr Farrell extended his hand. Rees grasped it, painfully conscious of his rough hand, calloused by both farm work and weaving. ‘Please attend me in my office,’ Mr Farrell said. ‘We are expecting a few guests for dinner tonight so we will have little time to talk then.’ Turning, he strode away. Rees started to follow but, realizing that Lydia was not by his side, he turned back. She stood hesitantly by the table, her hands tightly clenched together. Rees glared at Mr Farrell’s back and then, reaching out, he pulled one of her hands through his elbow. Together they followed her father into his office.

As Farrell moved a stack of papers from the center of the desk to one side, Rees looked around. A large globe on a stand stood to the right of Farrell’s desk and one chair had been drawn up to the front. A seating area, with additional chairs, were arranged by the window that looked out upon the front garden. A table in the center held an intricately carved tray with a crystal decanter and several glasses. Shelves of books lined the wall behind and adjacent to the desk, on Rees’s right.

The room was chilly although the fire was burning. Newly laid, it had been lighted, no doubt by some anonymous servant.

Farrell looked up and his eyes rested on Lydia in surprise. Rees felt his wife shrink back, intimidated. He was not going to stand for that. He pulled a chair from the window grouping and placed it in front of the desk. She hesitated for a few seconds and then, lifting her chin defiantly, she sat down. Once she was seated, Rees lowered himself into the opposite chair. After one final dismissive glance at his daughter, Farrell looked at Rees.

‘So, you are a weaver.’

‘That is so,’ Rees said, adding politely, ‘I understand you are a merchant.’

Farrell smiled. ‘I see your wife has told you very little about me or my profession.’ Since responding in the affirmative seemed somehow disloyal to Lydia, Rees said nothing.

Farrell took a box from his desk drawer and opened it to extract a cigar. ‘Would you like a smoke?’

‘No thank you,’ Rees said.

‘Or a glass of rum? Or whiskey if that is your tipple.’ When Rees declined again, Farrell put away the cigars and walked to the fireplace to light a splint. The end of the cigar glowed red and the acrid scent of burning tobacco filled the room. Puffing, Farrell returned to his seat. ‘I suppose one could say I was a merchant. But I do so much more. I own a plantation as well as a fleet of ships that sail between Boston, the West Indies and Africa. In Jamaica they take on sugar and molasses which are returned to Boston. Some of it is transformed into rum in my distillery. I export the liquor overseas, both to England and to Africa where the proceeds are used to purchase slaves.’

Sick to his stomach, Rees glanced at Lydia. She was staring at her hands, her face flaming with shame. Although she had alluded to her father’s profession, she had not told him the half of it. She had not told him of her father’s pride in it. Rees understood why she hadn’t.

‘Most of the slaves are brought to the sugar plantation,’ Farrell continued, seemingly oblivious to his daughter’s distress, ‘but some are sold in the Southern states. And you needn’t look so shocked. Why that upstart Republican with his radical ideas, Mr Jefferson, owns slaves. And he may be the next President. I suppose you voted for him.’

Rees did not respond immediately. Although many of Mr Jefferson’s ideas were appealing, Rees had found in the end that he could not vote for a slave holder. Instead, he had voted for Mr Adams. But that gentleman had not placed; the election was a tie between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr. Sent to the House for resolution, Jefferson had won by one vote.’ No,’ Rees said carefully, keeping his voice level with an effort, ‘I voted for his opponent.’

‘Well, that makes us kin then. Although you will meet a few slaves here in Boston, in this very house.’ He grinned and Rees thought of Morris and Bridget with their tinted skin. ‘But few, very few. Neither the Africans nor the Spanish Indians adapt well to this northern climate and they quickly die.’ This was said with indifference as though he spoke of a broken chair.

Farrell flicked a glance at his daughter and smiled. With a surge of anger, Rees realized that Farrell fully understood the effect his speech would have on her and was enjoying her misery. Rees gathered himself to rise from his chair. Lydia reached out and grasped his sleeve.

‘This is for Cordy,’ she whispered. Rees sat down again, his body stiff.

‘But you did not come to listen to me natter on about my profession,’ Farrell said, watching the byplay with interest. ‘Shall we discuss that ridiculous murder, the one of which I am accused?’

Rees looked into Lydia’s beseeching eyes and after a few seconds he relaxed into his seat. God forgive him, a part of him hoped Marcus Farrell was guilty.

‘Go on,’ Rees said coldly. Marcus smiled.

‘Permit me to save you both time and effort,’ he said. ‘I did not kill that boy.’

‘Then why do people think you did?’ Rees asked. Puffing furiously, and clearly unwilling to reply, Farrell took a turn around the room.

‘Did you know him?’ Lydia asked, her voice low and clear. ‘This Roark?’

Farrell stood up so abruptly his chair almost tipped over. ‘Yes, I knew him.’ He glanced at Rees. ‘We were seen, Roark and I, arguing down at Long Wharf.’

‘Arguing about what?’ Rees asked.

‘It is not important. He was a nobody.’ Farrell glared at Rees, daring him to persist. Rees waited, never removing his gaze from the other man. Sometimes silence made the best hammer. Finally, Farrell said angrily, ‘He wanted a rise in his wages. I said no. He disagreed. That was all there was to it.’

Rees glanced at Lydia and found her staring at him. He knew, and he suspected she did too, that her father had just lied to them.


Excerpt from Murder, Sweet Murder by Eleanor Kuhns. Copyright 2021 by Eleanor Kuhns. Reproduced with permission from Eleanor Kuhns. All rights reserved.



Author Bio:

Eleanor Kuhns

Eleanor Kuhns is the 2011 winner of the Mystery Writers of America/Minotaur first mystery novel. Murder, Sweet Murder is the eleventh mystery following the adventures of Rees and his wife. She transitioned to full time writing last year after a successful career spent in library service. Eleanor lives in upstate New York with her husband and dog.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Michele Drier: SNAP - When The News Changes Your Narrative

Why did I subscribe to Reuters and the BBC to write a novel?

In 2011 I was euphoric. I’d just sold my first book, a mystery, to a small press and felt I was on the road to being a novelist—a long-held aspiration.

My daughter and her husband took me out to dinner, and he asked, “Why don’t you write vampire novels?”

I thought he must be crazy. I’d never even read a vampire novel.

Flash forward to 2021. I now had sixteen books published—five mysteries, a stand-alone thriller and ten, count ‘em ten, books in The Kandesky Vampire Chronicles. And soon the world was in the grip of a pandemic disease.

Yes, I took his advice and began what was intended to be a trilogy of stories about 21st Century Southern California career women getting involved with 500-year-old Hungarian vampires. The Kandeskys were alluring and stunning, both the men and women. Their looks mesmerized and drew people to them, a tactic they used to hunt prey until they discovered making money was easier. They established a cadre of donors who provided blood, built their businesses and never looked back.

Now the family is one of the richest in the world and their flagship business is SNAP, an international celebrity gossip empire with nightly TV shows and a weekly magazine. And to keep this empire alive and growing, they need peace in the world. Peace to give people time for earning and spending money. Peace to report on celebrities having affairs, buying houses, getting messy divorces, suing one another.

Two of the senior members of the family live in Kyiv, where they hoped to expand their Eastern European influence. This stopped in 2014 when Russia attacked and took control of Crimea, an area of Ukraine the Kandeskys considered their own backyard, forcing the family to align itself with the West. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and people began sequestering themselves, the coverage of celebrities began to dry up. Countries were pointing fingers at each other as the cause of the virus and the basis of its spread. The first reported cases were in China, and research labs around the world geared up to develop and produce vaccines. Russia, China, India, the EU nations and the US all rushed vaccines onto the market, competing with one another to make windfall profits.

I was on the cusp of writing the 11th book in the Kandesky saga and decided I’d have SNAP begin a disinformation campaign, pointing a finger at Russia for developing the virus, then trying to sell its own vaccine as a way to make hard currency.

Even though my novels are fiction, they all have an undercurrent of reality, so I began to follow both the pandemic’s and Russia’s movements. Putin began massing troops on the border with Ukraine, and this was a direct threat to the Kandeskys' empire.

Two years before, in the tenth Kandesky book, SNAP: Red Bear Rising, I followed the Russian incursion into the Sea of Azov, the border between Crimea and Russia and now I was back, reading daily news stories about the world’s reactions to further Russian aggression.

The EU countries and NATO were understandably nervous and  upset, the US was still trying to figure out what role Russia played in the election of 2016 and the balance of power in the world, always on a hair-breadth basis, was threatening to roll over into World War III.

How would this play out? How much factual information should I, could I include? Although Jean-Louis Kandesky, half-a-millennium-old Hungarian vampire and Maxie, his 21st Century SoCal wife, set up shop in Brussels to meet with the EU and NATO, what influence could they possibly have?

I generally write two books a year, but I’ve been working on SNAP: Pandemic Games for almost a year now. Every time I feel I’m close to wrapping up the story something new happens with the pandemic or with Putin’s push against Ukraine.

One week I read comments from Polish representatives and had to go back and rewrite a chapter to include their concerns and their strong plea to NATO to take action. Both NATO and the EU are pulled into the news and the plot  because Putin’s topmost demand is that NATO refuse Ukraine’s membership.

Watching the slow and steady build-up of Russian troops, the actions of Belarus, Russia’s only European ally, and crack-down on dissidents has stopped me. What should I include? What is going to sound believable? What are the motivations?

In the end, I’m finishing the book and it will end before the actual invasion of Ukraine, but week by week, as I read the stories from across Europe, I stopped writing to assess the plot.

My critique group believes I’m prescient, predicting the ultimate events, including the invasion.

In truth, I’m just a storyteller, concocting how far I can go to stretch the fiction before reality overtakes it.

Michele Drier is a fifth generation Californian. She is the past president of Capitol Crimes, a Sisters in Crime chapter, the Guppies chapter of Sisters in Crime, and co-chaired Bouchercon 2020. Michele Drier spent better than 20 years as a reporter and editor at California daily newspapers. She writes traditional mysteries (two series) and paranormal romance (a 10-book series, The Kandesky Vampire Chronicles) as well as a medical thriller, Ashes of Memories. Her website is .

Side note from Sarah: I have a review of SNAP: The World Unfolds for the interested.

Saturday, April 09, 2022

Gwen Mayo: Confessions of a History Junkie

One of the definitions of a “junkie” is a person who gets an unusual amount of pleasure from or has an unusual amount of interest in something. For me, that something is history. Thanks to the Internet, I can indulge my passion any time I please. I have a list of sites longer than my arm, but as wonderful as the web can be, nothing replaces an up close look into the past. 

My spouse and I have spent many happy days looking for towns that no longer exist. Some of those towns wind up in stories or blog posts. My historical wandering brought the White House cookbook from the Lincoln administration into my possession. A trip to the Walter Reed Medical Center Museum let me get a good look at the Civil War Union Army Field Surgery Kit. That piece of history turned up in one of my Nessa Donnelly mysteries. I also spent a lovely summer researching the history of Kentucky bourbon.

I know history isn’t considered a sexy topic, but it can be. Lexington, Kentucky has a historic home that was once owned by Mary Todd Lincoln’s family. The same house was later Jenny Hill’s Bawdyhouse. Belle Brezing, Lexington’s most famous madam, lived there for a couple of years before buying her own house. 

Still, when I talk about my favorite pastime I get a lot of eye-rolls. Kids who hated memorizing dates for a history test often grow up to be adults who think history is boring. Why wouldn’t they? Their only exposure to history has been a bunch of dull facts delivered by a teacher with no real interest in the subject.

History, real history, isn’t the dry facts of an event; it is a group of individual stories that narrow an event to only one outcome. History is made up of hundreds of ‘what if’ stories. For instance, would the outcome of WWII have been different if Hitler had not taken a sleeping pill before the Allies landed on Normandy’s beaches? The question opens a whole range of alternate histories. Our reality is that Hitler slept until noon, and Field Marshall Rundstedt did not get the support he requested. The history of the world may have turned on a sleeping pill.

Gwen Mayo is passionate about blending the colorful history of her native Kentucky with her love for mystery fiction. She currently lives and writes in Safety Harbor, Florida, but grew up in a large Irish family in the hills of Eastern Kentucky.

Gwen is a graduate of the University of Kentucky, an active member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and a member of the Derby Rotten Scoundrels Chapter of Sisters in Crime, the Florida Gulf Coast SinC and the online SinC GUPPIES Chapter. Her stories have appeared in anthologies, in webzines, and in micro-fiction collections.

Most interesting fact: Gwen was a brakeman and railroad engineer from 1983 - 1987.

Wednesday, April 06, 2022

Judy Alter: The Outrageous Cozy

Someone on a listserv recently suggested a new sub-genre for cozy mysteries: the noir cozy. Sure, it’s tongue-in-cheek because the two terms almost cancel each other out. But new sub-genres in mystery keep popping up. The other day I read an author’s suggestion of a Feminine Noir Thriller category.

Because “the mystery” as a literary genre is so varied, no one definition fits, so over the years sub-genres have developed: the traditional mystery (for which everyone keeps trying without success to find a definitive description), the sci-fi mystery, the thriller, the hard-boiled/noir, the police procedural, the historical, and of course the cozy. Sometimes—frequently—the lines between blur. For instance, is the romantic suspense novel a genre of its own or simply suspense with a bit of romance added? Is amateur sleuth a category or part of the cozy?

When talk of the cozy comes up—amateur sleuth, no blood, gore, or sex, limited world such as a small town—I always think of the Murder, She Wrote series, quite possibly the longest-running cozy series. Today, so capably written by Terrie Moran, the series is up to something like Number Fifty-Five. Some critics and readers think of it as the perfect example of mysteries that require willing suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader: What small town has that many murders? It’s a wonder anyone is left in Cabot Cove. Yet Jessica Fletcher goes merrily along, solving murders in her beloved hometown as well as exotic destinations. And we talk about the Cabot Cove Syndrome.

But I would suggest there’s a new kind of cozy coming into the market—the outrageous cozy. The reader is really asked to suspend disbelief with these books. Think for instance of Julie Mulhern’s Country Club Murders Series. Wealthy and widowed, artist Ellison Russell has probably stumbled over close to fifty bodies in fourteen books. She finds them in swimming pools, the hostas in her front yard, the country club parking lot, almost anywhere she goes. All these murders play out against the decline of country club social ways in the 1980s, with Ellison dealing with her domineering mother who insists on pearls, white gloves, and the “right way” to do things, her rebellious teen daughter, the cop she’s fallen in love with, and her oh-so-capable and almost psychic housekeeper. None of this would ever happen in real life, but it makes wonderful reading. You just have to suspend that disbelief you were unfortunately taught in school.

And then there’s Finley Donovan Is Killing It by Elle Cosimano. A struggling novelist and always-broke single mom, at the mercy of her selfish and crooked ex, Finlay is overheard talking about the plot of her novel that’s stalled, and she’s mistaken for a hit woman. Lured by an enormous pay-out, she goes along with the charade, thinking she can bow out at any time. Of course, that’s not as easy as it sounds, and she and her sidekick/nanny/housekeeper soon are embroiled in a string of adventures from getting caught masquerading in a shady bar to a remote grave site in the country. They come too close to that huge grave for comfort. It’s all outrageous—and witty and clever. Second book in the series, Finley Donovan Knocks ‘Em Dead, finds Finlay involved with soccer moms who are ought to kill her ex. He’s a good dad, she hates him, but she must keep him alive. The hilarity just keeps coming.

Somewhat brazenly, I even think my current series, Irene in Chicago Culinary Mysteries, might fit in this new category. There aren’t that many bodies, but there is an outrageous character. Irene Foxglove (a chef with the name of a poisonous plant) is a TV chef who defines the term “diva.” Her gofer, Henny James, tells the stories of the murder and mayhem that surround Irene whose behavior is so impulsive, so demanding, so difficult that any self-respecting criminal would have offed her long ago. After one book, Irene rekindles her love affair with the fabulously wealthy French father of her only child and spends her time jetting back and forth across the pond in his private jet, bringing trouble every time she returns to Chicago. Henny goes from amused exasperation to frustration to reminding herself she really is fond of her favorite diva.

I don’t think outrageous cozies will ever become a big trend, but they’re fun to read—and I’m having fun writing one.

About Judy Alter

After an established career writing historical fiction about women of the nineteenth-century American West, Judy Alter turned her attention to contemporary cozy mysteries. When her publisher went out of business, she became an indie publisher and barely looked back. Her current series, Irene in Chicago Culinary Mysteries, features a TV diva chef and her gofer, an ambitious young cook from Texas.

Retired as the director of a small academic press, Judy is an active member of Sisters in Crime, Guppies, Women Writing the West, and the Texas Institute of Letters. When she is not writing, she is busy with seven grandchildren and a lively poodle/border collie cross. Her avocation is cooking, and she is the author of Cooking My Way Through Life with Kids and Books, Gourmet on a Hot Plate, and Texas is Chili Country, all available from Amazon