Guest Post: C.L. Tolbert – SANCTUARY

Good day, book people. I’ve recently noticed that I’m perfectly willing to suspend my belief and rational thought (to a certain extent) when reading fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, fantasy, or even romance stories. However, when I’m reading mysteries, suspense, thrillers, and even romantic suspense, I want the stories and characters to be wholly realistic and the action to be credible. If the story is too far outside of my brain’s comfort zone, I have a hard time enjoying the story. I know, strange reading quirk, but there you have it. Today, I’m pleased to welcome C.L. Tolbert, author of Sanctuary, part of the Thornton Mystery series, back to the blog. Ms. Tolbert will discuss the importance of “keeping it real” or realistic fiction. I hope you’ll enjoy what she has to share, follow along with the tour to learn more about this book and its author, and don’t forget to grab yourself a copy of Sanctuary for your fall reading. Thank you, Ms. Tolbert, for your visit, the blog is now all yours.

Keeping It Real
by C.L. Tolbert

I’ve always preferred realistic fiction. I like to emerge myself in the setting and the characters’ lives, and for me, that means the story must be credible. The reader must believe that what unfolds in the story could actually happen. Even though it was non-fiction, Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, which may be the best true crime story ever written, is an icon and a guide for what I’d like to achieve in a story.

But are mysteries realistic fiction? The short answer is, they don’t have to be. Mysteries can be fictional or nonfictional, and may even include supernatural topics, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles.

When I was five years old, my favorite TV show was Perry Mason, with Raymond Burr. My parents didn’t allow me to see it, which made it even more tantalizing, but my aunt did when she babysat my brother and me. I was impressed with Mason’s smooth approach, his brilliance in the courtroom, and the fact that, even though he usually represented the underdog or the disadvantaged, he always won.

But even though I enjoyed the intricate plot lines on the show, I knew, even at age five, that courtroom confessions, which Mason often relied on to win, seemed unlikely. I didn’t know the name for this anomaly when I was five, but it was my first confrontation with “deus ex machina,” a plot device where an unsolvable problem in a storyline is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and unlikely occurrence, such as the sudden confession. Even then, I wanted the facts and structure of the story to be realistic, not contrived.

Perry Mason also had a couple of sidekicks, one of which was Paul Draper, his intrepid private investigator. Paul didn’t hesitate to rough up witnesses so that they would ‘spill the beans.’ After a few years of watching Drake misbehave, I developed a strong distrust of private investigators until, as an attorney, I had to hire one for a case. My investigator was a retired police officer, and a stalwart follower of proper procedures. He’d never have roughed up a witness, nor would the majority of investigators.

When I was eight, my brother inherited the Hardy Boys books from a cousin and I read all thirty-two books one summer. I was surprised that the Hardy Boys would often find themselves breaking into houses and buildings to solve crimes, and, later on, as a thirteen-year-old, I appreciated that Agatha Christie was more careful with procedure. Poirot and Miss Marple weren’t the sort to trespass.

After retiring from the practice of law, I started working on a short story that featured Emma Thornton, a young, single-mother-attorney, as the protagonist. I entered the story in the Georgia State Bar Journal’s fiction contest, and, several months later, was very surprised to discover that I had won. This win gave me the confidence I needed to turn the short story into a full novel.

I knew I had a good story to tell. After teaching school for ten years, and practicing law for another thirty-five, I had plenty of war stories. But I was worried about how to keep my writing realistic and still capture the readers’ attention and interest. My protagonist, Emma Thornton, as an attorney and law professor, would spend the majority of her day bogged down in work that is boring, redundant, and even mundane. Lawyers spend more time researching and writing than anything else. They ask the same question to different people over and over in an attempt to get to the truth of the matter. This sort of reality would put readers to sleep quickly.

Lawyers are also bound to follow the rules of ethics or risk disbarment. So, neither Emma nor any person who worked on cases with her could ever threaten a witness, as Perry Mason’s Paul Drake, or become involved in Hardy Boys-like trespass. How could I turn Emma’s routine-filled and occasionally dull life into an exciting book, and still maintain a modicum of (hopefully edgy) realism?

One truth about trial lawyers is that they love a fight, and Emma is no exception. They also love arguing, and asking carefully wrought questions designed to expose the theory of their case. They also love trial. The courtroom is their temple. So, in each of the books in the Thornton Mystery Series, Emma spends the majority of her time preparing for trial, analyzing evidence, interviewing witnesses, and reviewing autopsy reports, and sometimes arguing with the DA. A couple of the books have courtroom hearings. Emma works for a law school where she directs the Homeless Clinic, and has no money for her own investigations. She, and sometimes her students, do the leg work on her cases.

To keep the story interesting, I gave Emma a personality quirk – specifically, an impulse control problem – and an insatiable curiosity. She also carries, to the extreme, the responsibility of zealously representing her clients, all of which suffer from various societal injustices. Emma’s impulse control problem is subtle, and although she’s aware of it, she never addresses the issue. But the reader may notice that Emma can’t resist pushing her apartment door open when it’s been left ajar by someone other than herself, or climbing up the stairs to spy on an intruder. Emma’s exploits often backfire, and she ends up in trouble at least once or twice a book. Impulse control issues would be a problem for any attorney, but that’s especially true when an attorney is conducting his or her own investigations, as Emma.

The term ‘realistic fiction’ sounds like an oxymoron. But it’s nothing more than the creation of imaginary characters and situations that depict the world and society as they are. Plots highlight social or personal problems that mirror contemporary life. The books in my Thornton Mystery Series, Out From Silence, The Redemption, and Sanctuary, are murder mysteries that take a look at societal injustices and family dysfunction, but in a way that takes the reader on a journey. The books are offered as entertainment, but, hopefully, the reader will learn something along the way.

Sanctuary

by C.L. Tolbert

September 12 – October 8, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

SANCTUARY by C.L. Tolbert book cover

A Thornton Mystery

In Sanctuary, the third book in the Thornton Mystery Series, Emma is back again. This time she’s agreed to represent a former client accused of killing the leader of a suspicious cult in New Orleans.

James Crosby, the charismatic leader of the Japaprajnas, is found dead one late afternoon, his body draped over an iron fence in the courtyard of the nineteenth-century house where he and several cult members work and live. Although police initially presumed his fall was an accident, they quickly discover that James received a lethal dose of a drug before he was pushed from his office balcony.

The next day the police discover a syringe and a substantial amount of the drug which killed James in Stacey Robert’s bedroom. The nineteen-year-old cult member is brought in for questioning, which leads to her arrest. Emma, who had represented Stacey when she was a sixteen-year-old runaway, agrees to take the case.

Convinced she is innocent Emma begins an investigation into the cult and its members. Emma’s questions uncover dangerous secrets, illicit activities, and the exploitation of innocent victims. Emma’s suspicions lead her to the killer’s trail and the case’s final resolution.

Praise for Sanctuary:

“Brace yourself. Deadly personalities, hidden agendas, and long-buried secrets threaten law professor Emma Thornton, after she agrees to defend a terrified young woman accused of murdering the charismatic leader of an oppressive cult. The dark heart of New Orleans has never felt so dangerous.”

Roger Johns, Author of the Wallace Hartman Mysteries

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: July 2022
Number of Pages: 280
ISBN: 9781685121464 (paperback)
ASIN: B0B5YFSL54 (Kindle edition)
Series: The Thornton Mystery Series, Book 3
Book Links: Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Barnes and Noble | Goodreads

Author Bio:

 
Author C.L. Tolbert

After winning the Georgia State Bar Journal’s fiction contest in 2010, C.L. Tolbert developed the winning story into a full-scale novel. Out From Silence was published in December of 2019, and is the first novel in the Thornton Mysteries series. Her second book, The Redemption, was published in February of 2021, and Sanctuary, the third book in the series, was published in July of 2022.

Licensed in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Georgia, C.L. practiced law for thirty-five years before retiring to pursue writing. During her legal career, she spent several years teaching at Loyola Law School in New Orleans, where she was the Director of the Homeless Clinic. She also has a Masters of Special Education, and taught in a public school prior to enrolling in law school.

C.L. has two children and three grandchildren, and lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband and schnauzer.

Catch Up With C.L. Tolbert:
www.CLTolbert.com
Goodreads
Instagram – @cltolbertwrites
Twitter – @cltolbertwrites
Facebook – @cltolbertwriter

Tour Participants:

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Guest Post: C.L. Tolbert – THE REDEMPTION

Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tour Banner: THE REDEMPTION, Thornton Mystery Series by C.L. Tolbert; quote "...a gripping tale of corruption and cime in the 1990s Big Easy, Cynthia Tolbert delivers another beautifully written and compelling Emma Thornton mystery." Ellen Byron; Book cover has a sepia-toned photo of storefronts with a partial view of the street, THE REDEMPTION, A Thornton Mystery, C.L. Tolbert.

Good day, book people. I can’t believe it’s June. I’m looking forward to sunnier days although my photosensitivity issues are worse in the Spring and Summer, I still look forward to those sunny days. In my mind, longer days means more daylight hours to read despite the fact that I’d read 24/7 if it were physically possible. In addition, to longer and sunnier days, I also look forward to all of the wonderful books I get introduced to during this time of the year…okay, any time of the year is a good time to be introduced to new-to-me books. I don’t know about you, but sunny days seem to be the perfect time for me to read more emotionally-charged fiction and non-fiction. One book that fits in the emotionally-charged fiction category is The Redemption by C.L. Tolbert. I’m pleased to welcome Ms. Tolbert today to the blog. She’ll be providing us with the backstory for writing The Redemption. I hope you’ll enjoy what she has to say and add The Redemption to your TBR list. Ms. Tolbert, thank you for joining us today. The blog is now yours.

What was the Inspiration for Writing The Redemption?

C.L. Tolbert

In 1995, I was teaching at a law school in New Orleans, and also served as the director of the law school’s Homeless Law Clinic. Individuals who fell within the poverty guidelines, and who were also homeless were able to come to the law school for legal services. Students provided those services under my supervision.

A case came in to the clinic from the public defender’s office concerning a sixteen-year-old boy who’d been indicted for the murder of a thirty-eight year old man. The murder had occurred in the St. Thomas Housing Projects. The director of the law school clinic program asked me if I wanted to take the case.

Since we were providing legal services to a homeless population, my students and I typically dealt with housing issues, or helped clients retrieve benefits from social security or the VA. It was difficult to teach trial advocacy, which was one aspect of my job, if we were limited to helping clients with social services and housing issues. My students wanted to learn trial skills, and I wanted to provide an actual trial for them so that they could learn.

The young man charged with murder, whom I will call Evan, didn’t fit perfectly into the homeless clinic guidelines, but he was close. He didn’t live with his mother. He “floated” around from family member to family member, living with his grandmother, and aunts, and friends. Technically, he wasn’t homeless, but he didn’t have a permanent address either. Plus, he fit within the poverty guidelines. So, I accepted the case.

I’ll never forget the first time I saw Evan. A student and I traveled to Orleans Parish prison where a deputy walked us back to the attorney/ prisoner conference area. The room, a large white cell which contained a single table and three chairs, was as chilly as a refrigerator. Glaring fluorescent lights hung overhead. Another deputy walked a chained Evan down the hall. I watched from inside the room as his orange jumpsuit cleared each bar. He shuffled into the space with shackled feet, through the barred opening, then approached us. The deputy stood by the door as if he were guarding its entrance. I indicated Evan should sit.

I was struck by how young he was. He was clearly terrified. Evan wouldn’t make eye contact. His upper lip was covered with perspiration, and his knee was moving up and down like a piston. He refused to speak about the night of the murder, other than to deny that the murder weapon was his. He saw nothing, knew nothing.

Even though Evan was a juvenile, the DA had filed a motion to try him as an adult based on a statute which allowed sixteen-year-olds to be tried as adults for murder, or other crimes, such as sexual assault or armed robbery. The prosecution had also threatened the death penalty as a possible punishment, which was permissible for juveniles at that time.

Our investigation later revealed that Evan’s family, especially his older brother, who was there the night of the murder, were well-known in the community for drugs and gang involvement. We also learned that gangs often ask younger members to take responsibility for crimes so that older members could avoid jail time. Typically, the younger members serve their time in the juvenile system, and are released at age 21. But this plan seemed to be backfiring on Evan, who the DA wanted to try as an adult.

Evan’s case haunted me for years and inspired The Redemption. I was shocked by the callous attitude the prosecutors had toward the death penalty, especially since a juvenile was involved. Capital punishment was popular in Louisiana. The District Attorney brought his top prosecutor to argue their motion to transfer the case to the adult system, and packed the court with an unusual number of attorneys on the day of the hearing. It was a highly political case. I wasn’t prepared for that sort of display, but we were prepared for our argument, which I made, and we won. We were able to keep Evan in the juvenile system.

In the actual case, Evan never revealed the events on the night of the murder. He protected his brother, and even though we were able to prove there were at least two shooters involved in the murder, the judge ruled that Evan was guilty. He served time in the juvenile system until the age of twenty-one which was his brother’s plan all along.

At its core, The Redemption is a story of social justice and hope. I’ve shown how easy it is to manipulate a sixteen-year-old, which is what often what leads to their arrest and incarceration. In The Redemption, I changed the facts of the story to show how Evan could have turned his loyalty and courage around and help save himself.

 

The Redemption

by C.L. Tolbert

June 1-30, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

THE REDEMPTION - CLTolbertEmma Thornton is back in The Redemption, C.L. Tolbert’s second novel in the Thornton Mystery Series.

When two men are murdered one muggy September night in a New Orleans housing project, an eye witness identifies only one suspect – Louis Bishop- a homeless sixteen-year old. Louis is arrested the next day and thrown into Orleans Parish Prison. Emma Thornton, a law professor and director of the Homeless Law Clinic at St. Stanislaus Law School in the city agrees to represent him.

When they take on the case, Emma and her students discover a tangle of corruption, intrigue, and more violence than they would have thought possible, even in New Orleans. They uncover secrets about the night of the murders, and illegal dealings in the city, and within Louis’s family. As the case progresses, Emma and her family are thrown into a series of life-threating situations. But in the end, Emma gains Louis’s trust, which allows him to reveal his last, and most vital secret.

Book Praise:

“With The Redemption, Cynthia Tolbert delivers another beautifully written and compelling read in her Thornton Mystery series, as law professor Emma Thornton’s fight to save a teen wrongly accused of murder endangers her own life in this gripping tale of corruption and crime in the 1990s Big Easy.”
Ellen Byron, Agatha Award Winning Author of the Cajun Country Mysteries

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: February 9th 2021
Number of Pages: 286
ISBN: 978-1-947915-43-5
Series:Thornton Mysteries, Book 2 || Each is a Stand Alone Mystery
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Author Bio:

Author - CL TolbertIn 2010, Cynthia Tolbert won the Georgia Bar Journal’s fiction contest for the short story version of Out From Silence. Cynthia developed that story into the first full-length novel of the Thornton Mystery Series by the same name, which was published by Level Best Books in December of 2019. Her second book in this same series, entitled The Redemption, was released in February of 2021.

Cynthia has a Master’s in Special Education and taught children with learning disabilities for ten years before moving on to law school. She spent most of her legal career working as defense counsel to large corporations and traveled throughout the country as regional and national counsel. She also had the unique opportunity of teaching third-year law students in a clinical program at a law school in New Orleans where she ran the Homeless Law Clinic and learned, first hand, about poverty in that city. She retired after more than thirty years of practicing law. The experiences and impressions she has collected from the past forty years contribute to the stories she writes today. Cynthia has four children, and three grandchildren, and lives in Atlanta with her husband and schnauzer.

Catch Up With Cynthia:
CLTolbert.com
Goodreads
Instagram – @cltolbertwrites
Twitter – @cltolbertwrites
Facebook – @cltolbertwriter

Tour Participants:

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