Book Review: DESOLATION CANYON by P. J. Tracy

DESOLATION CANYON by P.J. Tracy book cover

Desolation Canyon, Detective Margaret Nolan #2, by P. J. Tracy
ISBN: 9781250754950 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250830197 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250845498 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B09557MV5Z (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B092T9QHCS (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Page Count: 320
Release Date: January 18, 2021
Genre: Fiction | Thriller | Mystery

P.J. Tracy “seems to have found her literary sweet spot” (New York Times Book Review) with her dazzling new series, and in Desolation Canyon, fans get a deeper look into the complex characters who call Los Angeles home.

LAPD Detective Margaret Nolan is struggling to move forward after the death of her brother in Afghanistan and taking a life in the line of duty. Her stoic parents offer little support – they refuse to address anything difficult, and she’s afraid their relationship is eroding beyond the point of recovery.

The days off are the hardest, because they give Margaret time to think. A moment of weakness leads to cocktails with a colleague—an attraction she knows could be dangerous —at the luxurious Hotel Bel-Air bar. A stroll through the grounds leads to a grim discovery beneath the surface of Swan Lake: the body of a successful attorney who made his fortune in international trade.

It initially appears to be death by misadventure, but the case is anything but straightforward. As a series of shocking revelations emerge, Nolan finds herself confronting a sinister cabal that just might destroy her and everyone she loves.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible | | | Downpour Audiobook | !ndigo | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook

Good day, book people. Although it’s a new year with plenty of new books and new-to-me authors to discover, I find myself leaning in on reading favorite authors. I’ve been hooked on the writings of P.J. Tracy since reading Monkeewrench and the subsequent books in that series. Needless to say, I was thrilled to hear that a new series was beginning last year and devoured Deep Into the Dark. I’m eternally grateful that I was given the opportunity to read the second book in this series, Desolation Canyon. I enjoy smart, taut, and well-written mystery or suspense thrillers, especially those involving realistic characters, like LAPD Detective Margaret “Maggie” Nolan. This time around Maggie has to deal with the apparent suicide of a divorced attorney that is ruled murder by poisoning, a subsequent murder and torture of the attorney’s ex-wife, “…kidnappings past and present, a Russian import-export company, and maybe the Russian Mob up in Death Valley hiding behind a cult. Oh, and nerve gas…” One of the kidnappings is personally tied to Detective Remy Boudreau, a possible love interest for Maggie. And if that’s not enough, her mother is visiting the “cult” to deal with the grief over her deceased son. The big question seems to be if Maggie and friends can tie everything together without getting any of the innocent bystanders hurt or worse.

Desolation Canyon introduces us to a host of characters in addition to Maggie Nolan and Sam Easton from Deep Into the Dark. We get to know Maggie’s parents, York and Emily Nolan, a bit better and understand how and why they opt to deal with their grief in a certain manner. Maggie’s partner, Al Crawford, is featured a bit more in this story, as well as the pathologist Dr. Weil, and a private investigator hired by Remy Boudreau, Malachai Dubnik. Ms. Tracy takes the reader through a variety of twists and turns while introducing the Russian Mob angle, along with the money laundering, reverse money laundering (yes, it’s a thing), and more. Desolation Canyon features kidnapping, poisoning, murder, torture, trafficking, and more. Yes, it’s a lot to throw at the reader, but it works. It might not be possible to see how all of the puzzle pieces will fit, but Ms. Tracy does a fantastic job of putting everything together to provide the reader with a picture-perfect resolution. I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for stories that feature a group of characters working together even if it’s an ever-changing cast of characters. Police officers/detectives don’t work in isolation and it’s always nice to see books reflecting this fact. It takes a village to raise a child and it usually takes a team to solve crimes. Desolation Canyon has plenty of crimes and a great team working together to solve them. If you enjoy reading thrillers or if you read Deep Into the Dark, then I encourage you to grab a copy of Desolation Canyon to read. For those of you not sure about thrillers, I suggest you grab a copy of Deep Into the Dark and Desolation Canyon to read. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. I, for one, can’t wait to see what’s next for Maggie Nolan and her friends.

Happy Reading, y’all!

Disclaimer: I received a free digital review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss+. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

2021 Book 15: DEEP INTO THE DARK by P. J. Tracy

Deep Into The Dark, Detective Margaret Nolan #1, by P. J. Tracy
ISBN: 9781250754943 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250783578 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781250790071 (digital audiobook)
ASIN: B088ML1NXZ (Audible audiobook)
ASIN: B08BKL7N6K (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Release Date: January 12, 2021

Sam Easton—a true survivor—is home from Afghanistan, trying to rebuild a life in his hometown of LA. Separated from his wife, bartending and therapy sessions are what occupy his days and nights. When friend and colleague Melody Traeger is beaten by her boyfriend, she turns to Sam for help. When the boyfriend turns up dead the next day, a hard case like Sam is the perfect suspect.

But LAPD Detective Margaret Nolan, whose brother recently died serving overseas, is sympathetic to Sam’s troubles, and can’t quite see him as a killer. She’s more interested in the secrets Melody might be keeping and the developments in another murder case on the other side of town.

Set in an LA where real people live and work—not the superficial LA of Beverly Hills or the gritty underbelly of the city—Deep into the Dark features two really engaging, dynamic main characters and explores the nature of obsession, revenge, and grief.

P. J. Tracy is known for her “fast, fresh, and funny” characters (Harlan Coben) and her “sizzling” plots (People); the Monkeewrench series was her first, set in Minneapolis and co-written with her mother. Now with Deep into the Dark she’s on her own—and it’s a home run.

Purchase Links #CommissionEarned: Indiebound | Amazon | Amazon Kindle | Audible | AudiobooksNow | BookDepository | Downpour Audiobook | !ndigo | Kobo Audiobook | Kobo eBook

Read an excerpt by clicking here.

Good day, book people. I know some of you struggled with reading during 2020, but it was a banner year for me. Although I’m a bit ahead of my reading schedule for 2021, I’ve been struggling with my reading for the past few days. This is partially due to renewed tech device issues (yes, I killed another tablet and then I had to wait for the new tablet to arrive, set it up, and transfer most of my 9700+ ebooks to said new device; apparently tablets aren’t designed to be used 15+ hours/day. Who knew?!) and a series of severe migraine headaches. As a result, it took me several days to get into Deep Into the Dark. I struggled with the first perhaps 15-20% of the book (it’s difficult to provide page numbers when I’m reading a digital review copy and only see percent read, sorry) and that took the better part of the first two days. Perhaps my inability to read it in one sitting was due to the frustration over tech device issues (I had numerous issues with one reading app and it gave me nightmares after installing the app, attempting to download some of the 4100+ titles owned via this company, then removing/reinstalling it several times before it actually worked and allowed me to download anything, whew!). Then again, it might have been due to the severe pain from the migraine headaches. I can’t say for sure what the cause was but once I made it past the 20% mark, I was hooked on this story. I needed to learn more about Sam Easton and Melody Traeger and their dark places and pasts. I needed to know more about the police investigation into the serial murders and then the murders linked to Sam and Melody. I simply needed to know more.

I’ve read all of the Monkeewrench series by P.J. Tracy and was looking forward to reading the start of this new series. Although Deep Into the Dark got off to a bit of a rocky start for me, I’m hooked. I enjoyed the twists and turns the multiple storylines took. I enjoyed the friendship and similarities between Sam and Melody in terms of their past traumas and shared current experiences. I liked Margaret Nolan and the only drawback, if any, is that I didn’t feel that I got to know her as much as I got to know Sam and Melody. All of the primary characters are realistically flawed and quite human rather than caricatures or stereotypes. The action within the story was believable and the secondary characters were just as relatable and realistic as the primary characters. Deep Into the Dark is a psychological thriller with several mystery storylines happening, and also introduces characters dealing with marital separation, marital infidelity, post-traumatic stress disorder, continued drug recovery, attempts at alcohol recovery, physical abuse, survivor guilt, and murder. Ms. Tracy provides the reader with just enough information about the twin mysteries to keep you guessing until the bitter end. I can’t reveal any more without revealing too much, but if you have read the Monkeewrench series, then you’ll definitely want to grab a copy of Deep Into the Dark. For those of you that enjoy psychological thrillers filled with plenty of dark twists, then I suggest you grab a copy of Deep Into the Dark as well. If you’re not sure about psychological thrillers but just want something a bit out of your comfort zone to read this year, then please add Deep Into the Dark to your TBR list, it won’t disappoint. For now, I’m patiently awaiting the next release in this series and, who knows, perhaps I’ll be re-reading Deep Into the Dark while I wait.

Happy Reading, y’all!

I received a free digital review copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss+. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Guest Post: SC Perkins – MURDER ONCE REMOVED

Good day, my bookish peeps. I’m pleased to host a visit from S.C. Perkins, author of the debut cozy, Murder Once Removed, an Ancestor Detective Mystery. Sit back, relax, and get ready for a little visual road trip, because Ms. Perkins is going to take us all on our whirlwind tour of Austin, Texas. After this quick trip, you’ll probably be ready for some Tex-Mex cuisine and I can suggest the perfect book to read while you’re eating…Murder Once Removed. Okay, you can read the book before, during, and/or after eating.

Deep in the Heart of (Austin) Texas

Hi! I’m S.C. Perkins and I’m thrilled to be on The Book Diva’s Reads for a guest post! Today, I thought I’d show y’all a little bit of Austin, Texas, which is the setting of my debut cozy mystery, Murder Once Removed.

So, why did I put my main character, genealogist Lucy Lancaster, in Austin? Well, it’s a unique and cool city with a singularly small-town vibe. There’s very little of Austin that feels “big city,” even though its population is edging toward a million people. It’s all at once a storied college town, a hotbed of music and musicians, a family-friendly place to raise children, and the center of Texas politics. 

Oh, and if you want great food of all kinds, Austin has it. Especially in the tacos department, which is a huge plus for Lucy, who is a bit of an addict. Okay, a lot of an addict… Anyway, she also loves Austin for its abundance of genealogical and history-related resources. When it comes to Texas settings, there’s no place more perfect for Lucy, or more fun for me to set her adventures. 

And now, I’m happy to present visuals of some of the places Lucy goes in Murder Once Removed, both on her regular days as a professional genealogist and where her first investigation takes her.

1. The Lorenzo De Zavala State Archives and Library Building. The Archives, as it is most often called, is a National Literary Landmark and is home to, amongst other resources, extensive genealogy and family history assets. Lucy frequents the Archives, especially when there’s records she can only view on microfilm.

2. The Capitol. Austin is the capital city of Texas, and the capitol building is located right in downtown. The Italian Renaissance Revival-style building was completed in 1888 and is made of the same Sunset Red granite as the next-door Archives building. A statue of the Goddess of Liberty stands watch at the top. It’s also home to the Legislative Reference Library, where Lucy goes to do research on her client’s politically-minded ancestors.

The Legislative Reference Library – Copyright, the Texas State Preservation Board

3. The Capitol Rotunda:  the floor. One of many mosaic floors in the building, the Rotunda’s floor showcases the seals of the six flags that have flown over Texas:  Spain, France, Mexico, the Republic of Texas, the Confederate States of America, and the United States of America. 

The Capitol Rotunda  – Copyright, The Bullock Texas State History Museum

4. The Capitol Rotunda: the ceiling. The star in the middle represents the lone star of Texas against a blue sky. In the valley between each point is a letter, spelling TEXAS. Though the rotunda ceiling makes an appearance in Lucy’s adventure, I’m really just showing it to you because I think it’s so pretty.

5. The University of Texas at Austin campus. Though I myself went to Texas A&M University, the longtime rival of UT, many members of my family have gone here. So, I made Lucy a graduate of both great universities.

In Murder Once Removed, I’ve imagined a building for historical research called the Hamilton American History Center. It’s loosely based on UT’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. I also have Lucy visiting Waggener Hall, which is a real Liberal Arts building on campus. Both my imagined Hamilton Center and the real Waggener Hall are on the southeast side of campus, to the left side of the famous UT tower in this photo.

The University of Texas at Austin Campus – Copyright, The University of Texas

6. The Frost Bank Tower. One of the most iconic buildings in downtown Austin. In Murder Once Removed, Lucy goes to the Frost Bank Tower to attempt to interview someone with a direct connection to both the past and the present murders.

When seen from one side, the building is said to look like an owl. Do you see it? Seen from another angle, one cheeky reporter also claimed it looks like a large set of nose-hair clippers. Both descriptions make me laugh!

Photo courtesy of Pinterest. No copyright found; no infringement intended.

7. Lucy’s Office Building. Though I’ve created a historic building called The Old Printing Office, in which Lucy and her two other self-employed best friends, Serena and Josephine, work, I based the idea on this lovely building I’ve seen many times. It’s located exactly where I have The Old Printing Office located, on Congress Avenue, just a block away from the entrance to the capitol grounds.

This building was built in 1874, as you can see at the top arch, and has a little balcony that is almost hidden by trees. In my mind, Lucy, Josephine, and Serena occasionally have cocktails out on their similar balcony (sans trees) and watch the bustle of downtown Austin go by.

8. Congress Avenue Bridge, and its bats. Over one 1.5 million Mexican Free-Tailed Bats roost under Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge during the warm months of the year, which, in Austin, can go into early November. Each night at sunset, the bats fly out from under the bridge in a spectacle every bit as cool as Austin itself. Lucy drives over this bridge every day to and from work. 

Congress Avenue Bridge. No copyright found; no infringement intended.

9. Big Flaco’s Tacos. Lucy’s favorite taqueria is another creation of my imagination, which is unfortunate because I love tacos just as much as Lucy. 

If you took this 1950s-style diner interior and put it through a hail storm, that’s about what I imagine Flaco’s taqueria looks like. Flaco’s place had been vandalized before he purchased it, but he liked the beat-up look so much that he kept it. No doubt Flaco’s tacos would be every bit as scrumptious looking as the photo below.

Image found on internet. No copyright found; no infringement intended.

Image found on Pinterest. No copyright found; no infringement intended.

Thank you so much for joining me on a little tour of Lucy’s world in Austin!

Murder Once Removed (An Ancestor Detective Mystery)

Cozy Mystery
1st in Series
Minotaur Books (March 19, 2019)
Hardcover: 336 pages
ISBN-10: 1250189039
ISBN-13: 978-1250189035
Digital ASIN: B07D2BJ2JT

S.C. Perkins’ Murder Once Removed is the captivating first mystery in the Ancestry Detective series, in which Texas genealogist Lucy Lancaster uses her skills to solve murders in both the past and present.

Except for a good taco, genealogist Lucy Lancaster loves nothing more than tracking down her clients’ long-dead ancestors, and her job has never been so exciting as when she discovers a daguerreotype photograph and a journal proving Austin, Texas, billionaire Gus Halloran’s great-great-grandfather was murdered back in 1849. What’s more, Lucy is able to tell Gus who was responsible for his ancestor’s death.

Partly, at least. Using clues from the journal, Lucy narrows the suspects down to two nineteenth-century Texans, one of whom is the ancestor of present-day U.S. senator Daniel Applewhite. But when Gus publicly outs the senator as the descendant of a murderer—with the accidental help of Lucy herself—and her former co-worker is murdered protecting the daguerreotype, Lucy will find that shaking the branches of some family trees proves them to be more twisted and dangerous than she ever thought possible.

Purchase links

IndieBound      Amazon     Barnes & Noble    Books-a-Million

About the Author

S.C. Perkins is a fifth-generation Texan who grew up hearing fascinating stories of her ancestry and eating lots of great Tex-Mex, both of which inspired the plot of her debut mystery novel. Murder Once Removed was the winner of the 2017 Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery competition. She resides in Houston and, when she’s not writing or working at her day job, she’s likely outside in the sun, on the beach, or riding horses.

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Book Spotlight: THE DEVIL’S COLD DISH by Eleanor Kuhns

The Devil’s Cold Dish, Will Rees Mystery #5, by Eleanor Kuhns
ISBN: 9781250093356 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250093363 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781520015613 (audiobook)
ASIN: B018E6TUXE (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Minotaur Books
Release Date: June 14, 2016

In the next 1790s historical mystery from MWA Award winner Eleanor Kuhns, Will Rees’ small farm town begins to suspect his wife of murder by witchcraft

Will Rees is back home on his farm in 1796 Maine with his teenage son, his pregnant wife, their five adopted children, and endless farm work under the blistering summer sun. But for all that, Rees is happy to have returned to Dugard, Maine, the town where he was born and raised, and where he’s always felt at home. Until now. When a man is found dead – murdered – after getting into a public dispute with Rees, Rees starts to realize someone is intentionally trying to pin the murder on him. Then, his farm is attacked, his wife is accused of witchcraft, and a second body is found that points to the Rees family. Rees can feel the town of Dugard turning against him, and he knows that he and his family won’t be safe there unless he can find the murderer and reveal the truth…before the murderer gets to him first. 

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Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

When Will Rees finally arrived home, much later than he’d expected, he found his sister Caroline in the front parlor. Again. Since Rees and his wife Lydia had returned from Salem several weeks ago, Caroline visited often and always with the same demand: that Rees support her family. Almost eight years ago, in the spring of 1789 he had surrendered his farm to his sister in exchange for the care of his then eight-year-old son, David. Caroline and Sam had not only used the farm so carelessly it still wasn’t as productive as it had been, they had beaten David. Treated him like a hired man instead of their nephew. Rees had sent his sister and her husband packing over two years ago, but Caroline still felt the farm should belong to her. And she was even more determined since last summer, when Rees’s punch had left her husband, Sam, touched in the head.

This time she’d brought Sam with her, no doubt to impress upon Rees his culpability in Sam’s disability.

“Look at him,” she was saying to Lydia when Rees paused in the doorway. “My husband has no more sense than an infant.” Although Rees did not like his sister putting pressure on his wife, his gaze went unwillingly to Sam. He was trying to catch dust motes floating through a patch of sunlight and humming quietly to himself. “I must mind him just as I would a child,” Caroline continued. “Sam can’t work or help at all.” The truth of that statement sent a quiver of shame through Rees, although he knew he’d had no choice. Sam had attacked Rees and would have beaten him bloody if not stopped. “You see how he is—” Caroline gestured, her voice breaking. Rees eyed his sister. Dark rings like bruises circled her eyes, her hair was uncombed, and she looked as though she hadn’t slept in weeks. Despite himself, Rees felt guilt sweep over him.

“I promised we would help you, Caro,” he said, startling both women and drawing their attention to him. “I promised and we will.” Lydia’s forehead furrowed with worry when she saw his dirt-smudged clothing and the cut on his cheekbone. He acknowledged her concern with a slight nod; they would speak later.

“Finally,” Caroline said. “You disappear for weeks and even when you do return to Dugard, you don’t stay home.”

“I’ve been home this fortnight and more,” Rees said, keeping his tone mild with an effort. “I had an errand.” He’d promised himself while still in Salem that he would try to treat his sister with more understanding and respect. But he was finding that promise almost impossible to keep. “Sometimes I suspect you come calling when you know I’m not at home.” The words slipped out before he could stop them. Caroline’s eyes narrowed.

“I’ve told you more than once your paltry help isn’t enough.” Her shrill accusation rode over his measured tone. She glanced at Lydia. “I’d hoped another woman would sympathize but I’ve been disappointed in that as well.” Her furious countenance swung back to Rees. “Why don’t you understand? I can’t manage on my own. I want to bring my family here. To this farm. We can stay in the weaver’s cottage. You aren’t using it anymore, not since you and Lydia wed.”

Rees sighed, tired of this well-worn argument. He didn’t want Caroline and her family living so close. Rees knew his sister. Caroline would expect her sister-in-law to cook and clean for her family and would order her around like she was help instead of the mistress of this farm. As if that weren’t enough, Caroline would find fault with everything. Her oldest, Charlie, would help David, but the two girls were too little to work much. “We’ve discussed this,” he said. “You own your own farm.”

“Charlie can have that farm. Oh, why won’t you help me?” Caroline wailed. “You have plenty. This farm is rich. You have sheep and cattle as well as chickens and other poultry.”

Rees could not bear to see his sister’s anguished expression and looked at Lydia. She almost imperceptibly shook her head. Although a Shaker when he met her and well-used to offering charity, Lydia had no more desire to see them move in than he did. Lydia knew how difficult Caroline could be.

Caroline, catching Lydia’s negative gesture, turned on her with a furious glare. “You think you’ve fallen into a soft bed, haven’t you?” she shouted. “You greedy—”

“We’ll help you bring in whatever you planted in your fields,” Rees said, his deep voice cutting off his sister’s charge. Caroline sent one final scowl toward Lydia before returning her attention to her brother.

“And what would that be?” she retorted. “Sam can’t work. Charlie planted only a few fields and a vegetable garden.”

“You must have hay,” Rees said. He wanted to point out that she could have put in winter wheat last fall. The wheat, once it was harvested, would have given them a bit of cash. But he elected not to repeat something he’d said several times already. “If the fields went to grass…” Haying should have been finished weeks ago but perhaps something could be salvaged.

“Will you and David bring it in?” she asked. “Maybe I could sell it. I’ve sold the horses and most of the livestock … well, I had to,” she said, catching Rees’s expression.

“I’ll help you in the garden,” Lydia volunteered.

“Most of that’s been eaten,” Caroline said angrily. “It’s not doing well anyway. I couldn’t keep up with the weeds and now the squash has some kind of insect; the vines are withering. There isn’t anything to put by for winter.”

Rees sighed. “We’ll offer you what we can,” he said. “I promise you, you won’t starve. I’ll make sure your family always has food. But you can’t live here. And that’s final.”

Caroline stared at him for several seconds. Rees had the clear sense she did not believe him. “But Will,” she said, tears starting from her eyes, “what happens if it snows and you can’t get to us? And my children are in rags, how will they be clothed? They won’t be able to attend school.”

Rees opened his mouth, but before he spoke his wife rose from the sofa and moved to his side. With the birth of their first child two months away she moved slowly and clumsily. “We will do everything we can do for you,” she said. “Of course we don’t want you and your children to live in privation.”

“But you can’t move in with us,” Rees repeated.

Caroline’s mouth turned down and her eyes narrowed. “You’ll be sorry,” she said. “You and this—this blaspheming wife of yours. Oh yes, I’ve heard what debaucheries those Shakers get up to in their services.” Lydia flinched. “Come, Sam,” Caroline said, sounding as though she was calling a dog. But Sam stood up and meekly followed her from the room.

“Blaspheming?” Lydia repeated. “Debaucheries?”

Rees frowned. “Don’t pay any attention to my sister,” he said. Caroline seemed to think Lydia should be ashamed of her Shaker past.

“Charlie,” Caroline shouted to her son as she ran out the front door. “Charlie. We are leaving.” Rees and Lydia followed Caroline out to the front porch and watched as she climbed into the cart. It, and the oxen Charlie used for plowing, were quite a comedown from the buggy and fine horses she’d once owned.

Charlie came out of the barn with David close behind him. Charlie was almost as tall as his cousin but his fair hair had begun darkening to brown and he had Sam’s brown eyes. He wore the embarrassed and impatient expression of a boy with unreasonable parents. He and David slapped one another affectionately on the back and then he trotted rapidly toward the cart. He waved at Rees and Lydia before scrambling into the driver’s seat. The battered vehicle hurtled down the drive in a cloud of dust.

“Don’t feel guilty,” Lydia said, turning to her husband with a fierce glare. “We will help them as much as we’re able. And remember, Will, Sam attacked you. Besides, their farm would be more productive now if he hadn’t spent most of his time gambling and drinking in the Bull.” She did not say that Caroline could work harder but Rees knew she thought it. His sisters hadn’t been raised to work the farm. Both Phoebe and Caroline had gone all the way through the dame school and, unlike many of their contemporaries, could read and write. Caroline fancied herself a poet and believed farmwork was beneath her. Unlike Lydia. Rees didn’t know very much about her childhood and his wife avoided his questions, but he understood she had been raised in an affluent family from Boston. Still, her strong sense of duty and her years spent with the Shakers, where work was a tribute to God, had instilled in her a willingness to turn her hand to anything. Even pregnant, she’d thrown down her cooking utensils to help with the haying at the beginning of the month. And Dolly, Rees’s first wife whom he had lost to illness along with the babe she carried, had loved the farm, just like David did now. David did the work gladly and although only sixteen he worked harder than most men. Thank the Lord, Rees thought now, most of the haying had been done by the time he had returned home. Of all the jobs on the farm, and Rees disliked the majority of them, he loathed haying the most.

“I’ll take some of the cloth I purchased in Salem,” he said, “and add some of the homespun so she can sew clothes for the children.”

Lydia’s lips twisted. “I suppose she’ll want us to do that as well,” she said. And then added quickly, “That was uncharitable of me. I’m sorry.”

“Unfortunately,” Rees said, “you’re probably right. Caro hates sewing too. I swear, my sister could try the patience of a saint.”

Lydia sent Rees a glance indicating she could say more if she wished. But she chose not to, instead closing the door to the parlor and preceding him down the hall to the large kitchen at the back.

Rees felt the familiar lift of his spirits as they entered. This was the room they lived in, a large room with east-facing windows and a door opening to the south. Rees’s parents had added on a room to the side and a large southward-facing bedroom over it. Rees had always used that space for weaving, since the best light streamed through the windows. He and Lydia, once they’d married almost eight months ago, had chosen it as their bedchamber as well. Fifteen-month-old Joseph slept in the crib next to the bed and the other four adopted children occupied the rooms on the old side. But not David. He had moved himself into the weaver’s cottage, claiming it was just for the summer. Rees suspected the boy would not return to the house even with winter. He said there was no room in the house. But while it was true the house was cramped now with five extra children, Rees thought David had moved less because of space and more because he resented these interlopers. Rees groaned involuntarily. David reacted to every perceived slight with hurt and anger, as though Rees had abandoned his son all over again. Rees sometimes wondered if David would ever forgive his father for leaving him with his aunt and uncle as a child.

Abigail, the Quaker girl who came in to help, glanced at them from her position by the fireplace but didn’t speak. She’d returned to their employ with Lydia’s arrival home and seemed even quieter than before. Jerusha, only nine but already a capable and stern young woman—well, she’d had to be with a drunken mother and the care of her younger siblings—looked up as Lydia and Rees approached.

“Where are the little ones?” Lydia asked. Jerusha nodded at the back door. Through it Judah, Joseph, and Nancy could be seen, running around and shouting.

“Nancy’s watching them,” she said. Turning her gaze to Rees, Jerusha said, “Your cheek is bleeding.”

“Yes, it is,” Rees agreed.

“Fetch me a bowl, Abby,” Lydia said. “And put some warm water in it, please.” She urged Rees into the side room and into a chair, despite his protests. “What happened?”

“Oh, Tom McIntyre had another customer. Mr. Drummond, a gentleman from Virginia by his accent. One of those land speculators. He was holding forth on George Washington and why he should have been impeached. I don’t know why people can’t leave the man alone.” With last fall’s election, John Adams had won the presidency and Thomas Jefferson the vice presidency. Washington had gone into retirement, a battered, aging lion.

“Was Mr. Drummond the one who did this?” She gestured to the cut upon his cheek.

“No,” Rees said. Drummond had already left when the argument exploded.

“I suppose you had to speak up,” Lydia said, her voice dropping with disappointment. “I love your sense of justice but I do wish you didn’t feel the need to fight every battle.” A former Shaker, she abhorred violence. Besides, she worried about the consequences, especially now after the serious injury to Sam.

Rees knew how she felt. He was trying to curb his temper, mostly because he wanted Lydia and his adopted children to be happy in Dugard. But so far he’d broken every promise to do better that he’d made to himself.

“We wouldn’t have a country without the president’s leadership during the War for Independence,” Rees said, hearing the defensiveness in his voice. After fighting under General Washington during the War for Independence, Rees would hear no criticism of the man who’d become the first president. Those who hadn’t fought, or who had only belonged to the Continental Army between planting and harvest, could not possibly understand what Washington had achieved.

Rees hesitated, fighting the urge to justify himself, but finally bursting into speech. “Mac and that Drummond fellow both favor Jefferson and the French. Drummond said that President Washington’s actions during the Jay affair smacked of treason. And when I said that the president had done his very best and that if anyone was guilty of treason it was John Jay, Mac said that the problem was that General Washington was a tired, senile old man.” He stopped talking.

When McIntyre had called Washington senile, Rees’s temper had risen and he had pushed the smaller man with all his strength. Since Mac probably weighed barely more than nine stone, he flew backward into the side of the mill. Flour from his clothing rose up at the impact, filling the air with a fine dust. That was when Zadoc Ward, Mac’s cousin, jumped on Rees and began pummeling him. Rees had already had a previous fight with the belligerent black-haired fellow who was usually found in the center of every brawl. Rees had caught Ward bullying Sam in the tavern and would have knocked him down if Constable Caldwell hadn’t broken up the fight and sent Rees on his way.

Rees permitted himself a small smile of satisfaction. At the mill, he’d put down Ward like the mad dog he was. But by then Mac’s eldest son, Elijah, and some of the other mill employees had arrived. They’d grabbed Rees. In the ensuing altercation, Ward, who was looking for revenge, had hit Rees in the face and sent him crashing to the ground in his turn. But Rees had bloodied a few noses before that. He didn’t want to admit to Lydia that he had participated in the brawl just like a schoolboy, but he suspected she already knew. She frowned anxiously.

“Well, you can hardly blame Mr. McIntyre for his unhappiness,” she said, turning Rees’s face up to the light. “The British have continued capturing American ships. Wasn’t his brother impressed by the British into their navy? Anyway, it’s not only the French who were, and still are, angry about Mr. Jay’s treaty. You were the one who told me he was burned in effigy all up and down the coast. And that the cry was ‘Damn John Jay. Damn everyone who won’t damn John Jay and damn everyone who won’t stay up all night damning John Jay.'”

“Yes,” Rees admitted with some reluctance.

“And now, with the Bank of England withholding payments to American vendors, Mr. McIntyre might go broke and lose his mill.”

“But none of this was President Washington’s fault,” Rees argued. “He has always striven for fairness. To be neutral in all things. Personally, I blame Mr. Hamilton.”

“I’m certain Mr. Jefferson bears some of the responsibility,” Lydia said in an acerbic tone. “He is so pro-French.” Rees wished he didn’t agree. Although he concurred with many of Jefferson’s Republican ideals, the vice president was pro-French and a slaveholder besides. And Rees could not forgive Jefferson for turning on Washington and criticizing him. “Discussing politics is never wise,” Lydia continued. “You know better. Passions run so high. And I see your argument resulted in fisticuffs.”

“Mr. McIntyre struck me first,” Rees said as Lydia dabbed at the cut above his eyebrow. The hot water stung and he grunted involuntarily. “You know how emotional he is.” Mac had spent his life quivering in outrage over something or other, and for all his small size he had been embroiled in as many battles as Rees. But now, with the wisdom of hindsight, Rees was beginning to wonder why Mac had been so eager to quarrel with him. They’d always been friends. Yet Mac had been, well, almost hostile.

“He can’t weigh much more than one hundred twenty or so pounds soaking wet,” Lydia added in a reproachful tone.

“I know. This,” he gestured to the cut, “came from his cousin, Zadoc Ward.” In fact Ward would have continued the fight, but Elijah had held him back. “I knocked him down, though,” Rees said in some satisfaction. Lydia did not speak for several seconds, although she gave his wound an extra hard wipe. “Ow,” Rees said.

“I hope Mr. McIntyre will still grind our corn,” Lydia said after a silence.

“Of course he will. Politics doesn’t have anything to do with business,” Rees said. “Tomorrow I’ll ride over to pick up the three bushels I brought over this morning.”

A scrape of a shoe at the door attracted Rees’s attention and he looked over. “What did Aunt Caroline want?” David asked. As usual, seven-year-old Simon stood at David’s elbow. After Rees and Lydia had adopted Jerusha and Simon and the other three last winter and brought them home, Simon had developed a severe case of hero worship for David. Now one was rarely seen without the other.

“Same thing as usual,” Rees said. “To move in.” Since Rees’s return from Salem, David spoke to him only when necessary—or when he was shouting accusations. He hadn’t forgiven his father for abandoning the farm during a very busy time when Rees traveled to Salem. Besides, Rees had left David to bear the censure of the neighbors. Rees knew many people in Dugard blamed him for Sam’s condition, but it was David who’d suffered for it. In fact, during one of Rees’s frequent arguments with the boy, he’d accused his father of running away and leaving his son to face the name-calling and worse. How much worse Rees didn’t know. David refused to say but Rees could see how much it hurt him.

Nonetheless, David and Rees saw eye to eye about Caroline.

“I better count the chickens then,” David said.

“Why?” Rees asked, catching Lydia’s frown. “What’s the secret?” For a moment no one spoke. David fixed his eyes upon Lydia.

She capitulated with a sigh. “Every time Caroline comes here, something goes missing, usually a chicken,” Lydia said.

Rees stared from his wife to his son. “She’s stealing from me?”

“Your sister’s family is hungry,” Lydia said. “I think they’re eating them. And of course they need the eggs.”

“Why didn’t anyone tell me?” Rees asked. He had the clear sense that the entire story remained untold. And although he usually loved his wife’s ability to see and sympathize with other people, in this case he wished she’d told him about his sister outright.

“This time Sam never left the parlor and Caroline went straight to the cart,” Lydia said, turning to David. “I think the chickens are safe today.”

“Charlie…?” Rees suggested reluctantly.

David shook his head. “No. Charlie would never steal from us.” He hesitated a moment and then blurted, “I hired him on to help us and promised we’d help with whatever little work he has. He’s trying to support that family all on his own.”

“I offered something similar to my sister,” Rees said, directing a warm smile at his son, “but she turned me down.”

“Charlie was glad of the offer,” David said. He added with a wicked glint in his eye, “He hasn’t finished his haying. You escaped most of that job here but I’m certain you won’t refuse to help him bring in his hay.” He knew his father hated this job above all others. Rees fought with himself, torn between the urge to refuse and the desire to placate his son. Finally, surrendering to his wish to please David, Rees nodded and stretched his lips over his teeth in what he hoped David would see as a smile. But he didn’t fool his son. David laughed.

A fusillade of knocks sounded on the front door. Now what, Rees wondered, starting down the hall. Before he reached the door it crashed back against the wall. Sunlight streamed into the hall. Lit from behind, the figure was identifiable only by his odor: Constable Caldwell.

“Zadoc Ward has been found murdered,” he said.

“What?” Rees said “When? How?”

Caldwell came into the hall and shut the door behind him. Although his shabby clothing was as dirty as Rees remembered, the constable had made some recent attempt to clean up. He’d washed his face and hands and tied his hair into a neat queue. “Where have you been these past few hours?” he demanded of Rees.

“You can’t think I had anything to do with it,” Rees said. He and the constable had worked together to solve Nate Bowditch’s death last summer, and Rees counted the constable among his friends. In fact, one of his best.

Caldwell’s muddy eyes flicked to Rees and focused on the scabbed cheekbone. “Earlier this morning witnesses saw you and Ward engaging in fisticuffs at the mill.”

“Yes. So?” Rees said belligerently.

“If the positions were reversed, you would wonder about me,” Caldwell said, keeping his gaze fixed on Rees’s face. Unwillingly Rees admitted that was true. “So, where were you?”

“Here,” Lydia said, the whisper of her skirts coming up behind him.
Caldwell nodded at Lydia respectfully but said, “Can anyone else confirm that?”

“My husband arrived home while his sister, Caroline Prentiss, and her husband were visiting,” she said. Rees thought visiting was far too polite a term for his sister’s scene but did not protest. “Also,” Lydia continued, “Abigail Bristol is here. As you know,” she added as a reminder of the many times Caldwell had visited and eaten at their table, “she comes every day but Sunday to help.”

Caldwell heaved a sigh. “I had to check. You understand.”

“How did Ward die?” Rees asked, brushing off the apology.

“He was shot.” The constable grinned at Rees’s stunned expression.

“It wasn’t a brawl. That would be no surprise since Ward bullied so many men in town. I’d have a lot of suspects then. But how many would take the time to plan a murder?”

Rees nodded. It was odd that Ward’s murder occurred so soon after their fight this morning. Their previous brawl in the tavern had taken place only a few days earlier, but no doubt Ward had quarreled with many others between then and today.

“I won,” Rees said. “I’d have no reason to go after Ward again.”

“It would be more like Mr. Ward to try and murder my husband,” Lydia pointed out. Rees, who knew she worried about his safety, put his arm around her and drew her close.

“I didn’t really think you had anything to do with the death,” Caldwell said, meeting Rees’s eyes. “Are you coming to see the body then?”

“Of course,” Rees began. At that moment David came into the hall with Simon at his heels.

“What’s going on?” David asked.

“I have to go out,” Rees said, purposely vague. “I’ll tell you about it when I return.”

David’s mouth turned down. “Come on, Squeaker,” he said to Simon. “Let’s go outside and count the chickens.” He threw an angry glance at his father before turning around and disappearing into the kitchen. Rees sighed with regret. But he had begun to find this placid life at the farm mind-numbing, although he’d tried to ignore his boredom for David’s sake, and the lure of an unexplained death was too enticing to resist. He followed Caldwell out of the house.

Excerpt from The Devil’s Cold Dish. Copyright © 2016 by Eleanor Kuhns. All Rights Reserved. 

Other books in the Will Rees Mystery Series

A Simple Murder – 2012
Death of a Dyer  – 2013
Cradle to Grave  – 2014
Death in Salem   – 2015
The Shaker Murders – to be released February 2019

Meet the Author

Eleanor Kuhns is the 2011 winner of the Minotaur Books/Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel. A lifelong librarian, she received her Masters from Columbia University and is currently the Assistant Director of the Goshen Public Library in Orange County New York.

Connect with the author via Facebook, Twitter, and her Website.

This spotlight brought to you by Breakthrough Promotions

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The Devil's Cold Dish

The Devil's Cold Dish: A Mystery

The Devil's Cold Dish :  A Mystery




The Devil's Cold Dish

The Devil's Cold Dish

2017 Book 273: ANOTHER MAN’S GROUND by Claire Booth

Another Man’s Ground by Claire Booth 
ISBN: 9781250084415 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250084422 (ebook)
ASIN: B01N6ILUGL (Kindle edition)
Publication date: July 11, 2017 
Publisher: Minotaur Books 

“This contemporary take on a locked-room puzzle is chilling, compelling and completely entertaining, and Claire Booth is a wonderful new voice in crime fiction.”—Hank Phillippi Ryan on The Branson Beauty

It starts out as an interesting little theft case. Branson, Missouri’s new Sheriff Hank Worth is called out to look at stands of trees that have been stripped of their bark, which the property owner had planned to harvest for the booming herbal supplement market. At first, Hank easily balances the demands of the investigation with his fledging political career. He was appointed several months earlier to the vacant sheriff position, but he needs to win the fast-approaching election in order to keep his job. He thinks the campaign will go well, as long as he’s able to keep secret the fact that a group of undocumented immigrants – hired to cut down the stripped trees – have fled into the forest and he’s deliberately not looking for them.

But then the discovery of a murder victim deep in the Ozark backwoods sets him in the middle of a generations-old feud that explodes into danger not only for him, but also for the immigrants, his deputies, and his family. He must rush to find a murderer before election day, and protect the vulnerable in Branson County, where politicking is hell and trespassing can get you killed.

In Another Man’s Ground, her next novel featuring Sheriff Hank Worth, acclaimed author Claire Booth delivers a taut, witty mystery that will grip readers from the opening pages to the breathless conclusion. 

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It started with a simple phone call about stripped slippery elm bark and quickly become something much more complicated. Sheriff Hank Worth’s investigation into the theft of the bark of a tree used as a herbal remedy evolves into the discovery of not one but two dead and buried bodies, a host of illegal immigrants in his county, and a miss-step that just might cost him the election as sheriff in the second book in the Sheriff Hank Worth mystery series, Another Man’s Ground by Claire Booth.

Sheriff Hank Worth is a transplant to Branson, Missouri from the “city.” He was appointed sheriff a few months back and is now running for election. Although Hank’s wife was born and raised in Branson, Hank isn’t a part of the “good ol’ boy” network and doesn’t have the political clout of his opponent and long-time county deputy sheriff, Gerald Tucker. Hank doesn’t exactly get along with his campaign manager and he’s sure her advice at a local luncheon may have cost him the election. As if dealing with the campaign and all of its drama and fallout wasn’t bad enough, Hank must also keep under wraps the illegals he found while investigating the bark theft, attempt to discover the identity of the two dead bodies buried years apart, discern why they were killed and disposed of, and handle a family that can only be described as bad-tempered and ornery if not deadly when crossed. Can Hank find the answers to the theft, identify the remains and killer, and do so before the election?

Another Man’s Ground is the second book in the Sheriff Hank Worth mystery series by Claire Booth but the first book that I’ve read (a situation that will be quickly remedied I assure you). I found this to be a fast-paced, engaging, and enjoyable read despite constant interruptions due to travels between hospitals and nursing homes, nursing home drama, back-to-back-to-back migraine headaches, and more. I enjoyed the personal and workplace drama that Hank encounters and found him to be a realistic and believable character. I actually liked most of the characters in this story, including the colorful, crusty and cantankerous Jasper Kinney, campaign manager Darcy Blakely, and Hank’s co-workers — Alice and Sheila (I really liked Sheila). Another Man’s Ground is a taut mystery that provides humor with the twists and turns in the story, mixing family drama, big city boy versus small town boy, and more. Although I didn’t read The Branson Beauty (again, something that will be rectified soon), I didn’t feel as if I coming into this series and missing too much backstory (of course I could be wrong). If you’ve read The Branson Beauty, then I’m pretty sure you already have Another Man’s Ground on your TBR list (if not, add it ASAP). If you haven’t read The Branson Beauty, then I strongly urge you to read it and grab yourself a copy of Another Man’s Ground to read immediately afterward. I look forward to reading more in this series and consider myself fortunate to have been introduced to this new-to-me author and series.
Disclaimer: I received a free digital review copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes via NetGalley. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Read an excerpt from Another Man’s Ground here.

Meet the author

Claire Booth is a journalist and author who has written about crime for decades. She’s covered everything from the theft of the Aston Martin used in the James Bond film Goldfinger to the Laci Peterson murder and the San Francisco dog mauling case, where two lawyers were convicted of killing their neighbor with vicious dogs they kept for an imprisoned friend.

She also covered the case of Taylor Helzer, a Northern California man who convinced two followers he was a prophet of God. In order to raise money for their end-of-days scheme, the group extorted money from a retired couple and then killed them and three others to cover their tracks. The tremendously complicated quintuple murder case is the basis for her first book, the non-fiction The False Prophet: Conspiracy, Extortion, and Murder in the Name of God.

After living with that case for so long, Claire decided she’d had enough of the real world and turned to fiction. Her first novel, The Branson Beauty, was published in 2016, and the second in the series, Another Man’s Ground, came out in July 2017.

Connect with Ms. Booth at her website, on Facebook and Twitter.

This review and tour brought to you by TLC Book Tours 

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Another Man's Ground

Another Man's Ground: A Mystery

Another Man's Ground :  A Mystery



Another Man's Ground

Another Man's Ground

2017 Book 102: THE OUTSIDER by Anthony Franze

The Outsider by Anthony Franze 
ISBN: 9781250071668 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781466882843 (ebook)
ISBN: 9781427282651 (audiobook)
ASIN: B01L7BSLIS (Kindle edition)
Publisher: Minotaur Books  
Publication Date: March 21, 2017

THE OUTSIDER is as authentic and suspenseful as any John Grisham novel—and I like Grisham a lot.”—JAMES PATTERSON

A young law clerk finds himself caught in the crosshairs of a serial killer in this breathtaking thriller set in the high-pressure world of the Supreme Court, from renowned lawyer Anthony Franze. 

Things aren’t going well for Grayson Hernandez. He just graduated from a fourth-tier law school, he’s drowning in student debt, and the only job he can find is as a messenger. The position stings the most because it’s at the Supreme Court, where Gray is forced to watch the best and the brightest―the elite group of lawyers who serve as the justices’ law clerks—from the outside.

When Gray intervenes in a violent mugging, he lands in the good graces of the victim: the Chief Justice of the United States. Gray soon finds himself the newest—and unlikeliest—law clerk at the Supreme Court. It’s another world: highbrow debates over justice and the law in the inner sanctum of the nation’s highest court; upscale dinners with his new friends; attention from Lauren Hart, the brilliant and beautiful co-clerk he can’t stop thinking about.

But just as Gray begins to adapt to his new life, the FBI approaches him with unsettling news. The Feds think there’s a killer connected to the Supreme Court. And they want Gray to be their eyes and ears inside One First Street. Little does Gray know that the FBI will soon set its sights on him. 

Racing against the clock in a world cloaked in secrecy, Gray must uncover the truth before the murderer strikes again in this thrilling high-stakes story of power and revenge by Washington, D.C. lawyer-turned-author Anthony Franze. 

Grayson “Gray” Hernandez is trying to make the best of a bad situation. He has a job and it’s at the United States Supreme Court. Sadly, it isn’t a job as an attorney but it is a job. He lives in a neglected area of town and uses a bicycle to get to and from work. Fortunately, Gray’s luck changes when he thwarts an attack on the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Now Gray is working as a law clerk to the Chief Justice, is living in a condo the Chief Justice owns, and has use of one of the Chief Justice’s car. Gray knows he has to take the bitter with the sweet with his changed circumstances and the bitter is being an informant for the FBI as well as being the perpetual outsider with the Chief Justice’s other law clerks. Is this the opportunity of a lifetime or something much worse? What could possibly link a series of apparently random murders with the United States Supreme Court? 

The Outsider is a fast-paced legal mystery-thriller and one that I read in one day. All of the characters are flawed in some way and relatable, yes even the Justices on the Supreme Court. Mr. Franze provides the reader with two interlinked stories, that of Gray and his family, friends, and coworkers, and that of the FBI investigation into a series of murders that are linked to the Supreme Court. The story provides a few twists and turns along the way that made this anything but a predictable read. It was fascinating to read about the behind-the-scenes day-to-day life of the Supreme Court even when you know some of it is fictional. The Outsider provides legal thrills, an intense mystery, hints of romance, family drama, drama between old and new friends, and more. If you read mysteries or legal thrillers, then you’ll definitely want to add The Outsider to your TBR list. For those of you that enjoy books that are influenced by other books, namely The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, you’ll want to read the story just for those references. Just in case you couldn’t tell, I enjoyed reading The Outsider and look forward to reading more from Mr. Franze in the future. 

Disclaimer: I received a free digital review copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley for review purposes. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Anthony Franze

Author Bio:

ANTHONY FRANZE is a lawyer in the Appellate and Supreme Court practice of a prominent Washington, D.C. law firm, and a critically acclaimed thriller writer with novels set in the nation’s highest court. Franze has been a commentator on legal and Supreme Court issues for The New Republic, Bloomberg, National Law Journal, and other major media outlets. He is a board member and a Vice President of the International Thriller Writers organization.

Franze lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his family.

Catch Up with Anthony on his Website  & Facebook .

Tour Participants:


This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Anthony Franze. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Gift Card. The giveaway begins on March 19th and runs through April 22nd, 2017.

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The Outsider

AudiobookThe Outsider

The Outsider: A Novel



The Outsider


2016 Book 453: INHERIT THE BONES by Emily Littlejohn

Inherit the Bones (Gemma Monroe #1) by Emily Littlejohn 
ISBN: 9781250089397 (hardcover)
ISBN: 9781250089403 (ebook)
ASIN: B01DJ0Y0AI (Kindle edition)
Publication date: December 13, 2016 
Publisher: Minotaur 

Secrets and lies can’t stay buried forever in Cedar Valley.

In the summer, hikers and campers pack the small Colorado town’s meadows and fields. And in the winter, skiers and snowboarders take over the mountains. Season by season, year after year, time passes and the lies, like the aspens and evergreens that surround the town, take root and spread deep.

Now, someone has uncovered the lies, and it is his murder that continues a chain of events that began almost forty years ago. Detective Gemma Monroe’s investigation takes her from the seedy grounds of a traveling circus to the powerful homes of those who would control Cedar Valley’s future.

Six-months pregnant, with a partner she can’t trust and colleagues who know more than they’re saying, Gemma tracks a killer who will stop at nothing to keep those secrets buried.

Gemma Monroe has a good life in Cedar Valley, Colorado. She has a job she enjoys with the local sheriff’s office. She has family that she loves, and she and her partner are awaiting the birth of their first child. Now if she could only trust her life-partner and her colleagues, things might be as close to perfect as possible. While Gemma deals with her lack of trust issues with her life-partner and colleagues, she must deal with a murder case that seems to open the proverbial Pandora’s Box of secrets in her hometown. The murder of a young man with the traveling circus was strange, and the case becomes even more bizarre when the identity of the dead teen is revealed to be none other than the previously presumed deceased son of the mayor. Gemma realizes that the victim’s disappearance three years earlier is probably related to his murder, so she begins to dig into his background and family. Strangely, her grandmother, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, warns her away from the grandfather of the victim. Gemma is then relegated to partnering a senior colleague on the case rather than leading the investigation. Adding to the overall strangeness of this case and investigation, Gemma is finding notes and messages in an attempt to get her to stop her investigation and then the newest deputy is severely injured in a hit-and-run accident. Is it possible that this murder could be tied to the town’s previously unsolved murder cases from 30 years ago? 

I found Inherit the Bones to be a fast-paced and wholly engaging read. I enjoyed the small-town environment, the angst from Gemma’s relationships with her life-partner, grandparents, and colleagues, not to mention the murder and its investigation. Yes, obviously there’s a lot more going on in Inherit the Bones than a current murder and its investigation, but you’ll have to read the book to find out for yourself. I enjoyed reading about all of the characters, especially the circus folk. The small town of Cedar Valley and its history is just as important to the story as the characters. Inherit the Bones is filled with quirky characters, plausible scenarios, and intrigue upon intrigue that kept me reading until the end just to find out whodunit and why (no, I’m not going to tell you who did it or why . . . read the book!). Inherit the Bones is the first in a series by Ms. Littlejohn and I’m looking forward to reading more about Gemma Monroe in the future. 

Disclaimer: I received a free digital copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes via NetGalley. I was not paid, required, or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Inherit the Bones

Inherit the Bones: A Mystery

Inherit the Bones :  A Mystery


Inherit the Bones

Book Showcase and Giveaway: THE ADVOCATE’S DAUGHTER by Anthony Franze

The Advocate’s Daughter

by Anthony Franze

on Tour April 2016

The Advocate's Daughter by Anthony FranzeA Washington, D.C. lawyer and a frequent major media commentator on the Supreme Court, Anthony Franze delivers a high-stakes story of family, power, loss and revenge set within the insular world of the highest court of our country.

#1 New York Times bestseller Lee Child called The Advocate’s Daughter “smart, sophisticated, suspenseful, and written with real insider authenticity.” Suspense Magazine hailed it as “the ‘best of the best’ when it comes to suspense.” And Library Journal said it “gives readers an inside peek at the world of the Supreme Court, and tossing in an intriguing mystery only adds to the thrills.”

* * *

Among Washington D.C. power players, everyone has secrets they desperately want to keep hidden, including Sean Serrat, a Supreme Court lawyer. Sean transformed his misspent youth into a model adulthood, and now has one of the most respected legal careers in the country. But just as he learns he’s on the short list to be nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court, his daughter, Abby, a talented and dedicated law student, goes missing. Abby’s lifeless body is soon found in the library of the Supreme Court, and her boyfriend, Malik Montgomery, a law clerk at the high court, is immediately arrested. The ensuing media frenzy leads to allegations that Malik’s arrest was racially motivated, sparking a national controversy.

While the Serrat family works through their grief, Sean begins to suspect the authorities arrested the wrong person. Delving into the mysteries of his daughter’s last days, Sean stumbles over secrets within his own family as well as the lies of some of the most powerful people in the country. People who will stop at nothing to ensure that Sean never exposes the truth.

Book Details:

Genre:      Thriller, Mystery, Suspense

Published by: Minotaur Books

Publication Date: March 22nd 2016

Number of Pages:  320

ISBN:   1250071658 (ISBN13: 9781250071651)

Purchase Links: Amazon  Barnes & Noble  Goodreads



Washington, D.C., Suburbs

Present Day

There should have been a sign. A feeling. Some sense of impending doom. But Sean Serrat’s day started like any other.

“Daddy, guess what?”

Sean always felt a tiny rush of emotion when his children called him Daddy, a word that was fading to extinction in his home.

“Daddy,” Jack repeated. Sean glanced at his son, who was perched on a stool at the granite kitchen counter shoveling Cheerios into his mouth. Sunshine cut through the window and a shadow fell across the seven-year-old’s round face. Jack’s teenage brother, Ryan, sat next to him crunching a bagel.

“What is it, buddy?” Sean stood near the stove, bowl in one hand, spoon in the other, trying not to drip on his tie.

“I told my friend, Dean, about our family Money Jar.”


“I told him that some families have Swear Jars where you have to put money in if you say a bad word. But we have a Money Jar that has money in it and you say bad words into the jar.” Jack cupped his orange juice glass over his mouth and demonstrated with a muffled, “Butt, poop, ass.”

Ryan blurted a laugh, spattering flecks of bagel over the countertop.

Sean tried to hold back a smile. “I don’t think you should tell your friends about the Money Jar,” he said. “And maybe let’s not tell Mommy about—”

“Don’t tell Mommy what?” Emily said, strolling into the kitchen. She wore black yoga pants and a T-shirt and her skin glistened from her morning jog. The boys snickered and Sean reached for the coffee pot and poured Emily a cup.

Emily’s eyes narrowed. “What are you boys up to?”

“Us? Up to something?” Sean said, handing her the coffee.

Emily gave a sideways look: Silly boys. She smelled the coffee, smiled, and took a sip. “You look so handsome,” she said. She set the mug on the counter and adjusted the knot on Sean’s tie. “The new suit looks great. Are you excited for your first day?”

Sean gave a fleeting smile, trying to look sufficiently enthusiastic, something he knew his wife would see through. The job change had been Emily’s idea. No, her demand.

“Hey Dad,” Ryan said, “what’s with the suit? I thought you were gonna be the boss, so doesn’t that mean you can just wear jeans or whatever you want?”

“It’s a big law firm, kiddo, and I’m not the boss. And anyway, I don’t take fashion advice from eighth-graders who need a haircut and can’t keep their pants pulled up.”

“Seriously, go with jeans,” Ryan said. “Set the tone. Show a little confidence.”

“Leave Dad alone,” Emily said. “He’s going to be the talk of the ladies at the office.” She clasped Sean’s chin in her hand and pressed his cheeks together. “How often do you think a tall, dark, and handsome man walks into that stuffy law firm?” She tippy-toed and gave Sean a soft kiss.

“Guys, please.” Ryan lifted a hand to shield his eyes.

Sean grabbed his wife’s bottom to torture his fourteen-year-old.

Ryan shuddered. “Really, stop.”

“You and Jack go get your backpacks together for school,” Sean said. “Unless you want us to make out a little first.” He wrapped his arm around Emily’s waist and pulled her to him.

“I’m out,” Ryan said. Hands on his temples like horse blinders, he marched out of the kitchen. His little brother imitated the move and followed after him.

“You said you might see Abby today?” Emily asked.

“Yeah. I’m going to a reception this afternoon at Georgetown for Justice Malburg’s retirement. Jonathan told me she’d be there.”

“Did Jon say how she’s doing?” Emily opened the refrigerator door. Its face was a collage of family photographs and Jack’s artwork held in place with magnets. Under one of the magnets, a bumper sticker: STAND UP FOR WHAT’S RIGHT, EVEN IF YOU’RE STANDING ALONE.

“He says Abby’s the star research assistant of all his students.”

“Tell her to call me. And that she’d better come to dinner tonight. She missed last week, and tonight’s a celebration.”

Sean nodded. “That reminds me,” he said, “did she talk with you yesterday?”

“No, why?”

“I missed her call when I was at Brooks Brothers. She left me a voice mail that she wanted to talk about something, but with all the running around to get ready for today, I forgot to call back.”

“Did she sound okay?” Emily asked. Her smile lines were always more pronounced when she was worried. “I haven’t heard from her in a couple days.”

“It didn’t sound urgent. And she didn’t call back, so I’m sure she’s fine. I’ll see what she needs today at Georgetown.”

Distorted music whined from the kitchen counter. “Who Knew” by Pink. Last summer Abby had changed her mother’s ringtone as a joke, and Emily never figured out how to switch it back. Abby and Emily both now walked around with Pink blaring from their phones whenever someone called.

“Maybe that’s her.” Emily scanned the iPhone, then tapped on the screen, sending the call to voice mail. “Just Margo,” she said with a frown.

“Abby’s fine. I’ll tell her to give you a call.”

Sean kissed his wife and called out good-byes to his sons. On the walk to the subway he thumbed a text to Abby. She didn’t reply.


Sean made his way down the escalator into the concrete arches and dim light of the Metro. The station smelled of smoldering rubber, and his tie blew over his shoulder in the push of air from a train entering the platform. He waved his SmarTrip card over the scanner at the gate and stepped into the train car just before the unforgiving doors clamped shut.

The orange vinyl seats were filled, and Sean gripped the metal handrail, trying not to lose his footing as the train jerked and jostled. He looked about the subway car. It was the usual cast: college students hypnotized by their phones, tourists wearing flip-flops and studying their travel guidebooks, and government workers with laminated security badges dangling from cords around their necks, the quintessential Washington status symbol. He caught one of the government types stealing a look at him. The man’s gaze dropped back to the Washington Post. Sean wondered if the guy recognized him from the story in that morning’s paper. Sean had already received several e-mails from friends about the piece: Nice photo—smile much? Don’t forget us little people. Mr. Big Shot, and the like. The story, and others like it over the past two weeks, speculated that Sean had resigned from the solicitor general’s office in anticipation that the president would soon nominate him to the Supreme Court; that Sean needed some daylight between himself and the controversial abortion and privacy cases that the office would handle next term. As is often the case in Washington, the truth was more pedestrian. The two Fs: family and finances. Heading the appellate group at a large law firm meant he’d have dozens of junior lawyers at his disposal—a large staff would allow him to be home more for the boys. And the firm paid ten times what he made at the solicitor general’s office, ending his constant worries about surviving in overpriced D.C. on a government salary.

For most lawyers, the prospect of being on the short list for a Supreme Court nomination would be thrilling, an actor’s Oscar nomination. For Sean, though, the newspaper story was unsettling. Not because of the job. After years of representing the federal government before the Supreme Court, he could do the job. History had shown that several justices had been dummies, and they’d gotten by. It was the attention. A nomination meant public scrutiny. A vetting. Which meant a deep look into his past. And that was something he didn’t want or need.

The train pulled into Dupont Circle. Sean stepped aside to let an elderly woman totter out. It was then that he felt a hard shoulder bump from behind. It wasn’t a brush-by—it had some energy to it. Purposeful. He watched the man with greasy hair and flannel shirt push roughly out of the subway car into the crowd on the platform. As the train doors started to close, the man twisted around and looked Sean in the eyes.

“They know, Sean,” he said. “They know.”

Sean did a double take. Did he just say my name? The train pulled away from the station, and Sean watched through the window as the man vanished into the sea of commuters. Sean must’ve misheard. Then it dawned on him. That damn story in the Post. But the guy said, They know. All the attention was making him paranoid.

The train hit Sean’s stop at Farragut North, and he walked the two blocks to the Harrington & Caine building. In the lobby, he paused for a moment and took it all in. A glass and steel atrium spiraled up twelve stories, each floor occupied by more than a hundred lawyers. Three women in headset mikes sat behind a sleek reception table. Copies of The Wall Street Journal were neatly folded beside leather chairs in the waiting area. The setting was a stark contrast to the ornate fifth floor of the Justice Department building where Sean had spent most of his career. No portraits, no crown moldings, no American flags or other pretentious symbols of the Office of the Solicitor General and its important work representing the United States before the Supreme Court. Harrington & Caine had a modern, ruthless design. A fitting metaphor, Sean thought, for his move from the self-important government sphere to the rainmaking-obsessed planet of Big Law.

As Sean checked in at the front desk, his phone vibrated and he read the text message from Emily:

Good luck today! I love you!

p.s. still no word from Abby 😦


The morning at Harrington & Caine was a haze of computer training, tax and benefit forms, and lots of people whose names Sean would never remember. By early afternoon, he was eager to see some familiar faces at the reception for Justice Malburg.

He took a cab to First Street and walked to the Georgetown Law campus. A small fleet of black Cadillacs were parked along First, which Sean assumed was the security detail for the Supreme Court justices attending the event. A clock tower stood under a cloudless April sky, cutting a narrow shadow over the only patch of grass on the urban campus.

“Sean,” Cecilia Lowenstein called to him in her husky voice. She gave him a cheek-to-cheek kiss. He’d once told her that he hated the faux European greeting, but that only encouraged Cecilia. Sean scanned the queue at the entrance of the Hotung International building. The line was filled with Washington’s upper echelon: the Supreme Court Bar. A group of insufferable blowhards. Intellectual elitists. Terrible dressers. His people.

“Well, if it isn’t the ‘modest superstar’ I’ve read so much about,” Cecilia said, flapping a copy of the Washington Post.

Sean frowned and shook his head. “Let’s not…”

“You’re no fun.” Cecilia adjusted her skirt and wobbled slightly in heels that seemed taller than she could handle. “So how’s your first day in private practice? Realized how much it sucks yet?”

“They’re still just showing me where the restrooms are and how to turn on my computer, so I haven’t had to deal with billable hours yet.”

“Ugh, don’t get me started about billables. We were spoiled at OSG.” Cecilia, like most of the Supreme Court community, spoke in abbreviations and acronyms. It wasn’t the Office of the Solicitor General, it was OSG. It wasn’t Justice Robert Reeves Anderson, it was RRA. A case wasn’t dismissed as improvidently granted, it was DIG-ed. There was the GVR (granted, vacated, and remanded) and the CVSG (the court calling for the views of the solicitor general), and the list went on. An ivory tower version of annoying teenage text-speak.

Cecilia scrutinized the line ahead of them. “Most of these schmucks charge a thousand bucks an hour for lower court appeals, but will take the Supreme Court cases for free just so they can get oral arguments. With the justices hearing fewer and fewer cases every term, times are tough, my friend. And your law firm’s gonna be so starstruck the first year that they won’t give you grief that you’re not pulling in much money, but that’ll change.”

Sean had heard this a million times from Cecilia, who’d left OSG two years ago to head the appellate group at Beacher & Bishop. She was right that getting Supreme Court cases in private practice wasn’t easy. At OSG, they were part of a small band of elite government lawyers whose sole job was to represent the United States government in cases before the Supreme Court. The office was so influential with the nine justices that the solicitor general often was called “The Tenth Justice.” They didn’t have to go out and hustle for work; the cases came to them. The court accepted only about seventy out of seven thousand petitions requesting review each term, so in private practice the competition for a piece of that 1 percent was fierce. It was an open secret that when the court granted certiorari in a case, even the most prominent Supreme Court lawyers would engage in the distasteful practice of cold calling or e-mailing the parties offering to take the case for free. Still, it gave Sean solace that despite her gloom and doom, Cecilia already had racked up seven arguments while in private practice.

“Thanks for the pep talk,” Sean said wearily. “I can always count on you, Cel.”

“So, you really don’t want to talk about this?” Cecilia flapped the newspaper again.

Sean rolled his eyes.

“You know I hate modesty,” Cecilia said.

“I’m hardly being modest. We all know who’s getting the nomination.” Sean’s gaze cut to Senator Mason James, who was at the front of the line.

Cecilia wrinkled her nose. “Maybe you’re right. Those dumb shits on the Hill are determined to get one of their own on the court—even if it means a schemer like James. But clients will still be impressed, so you should take advantage of the attention.” All nine of the current justices had been federal judges at the time of their appointment, something a block of senators had criticized as a departure from history that left the court too detached from the policy implications of its decisions. Senator James, the former attorney general of Virginia and a brilliant legal mind, offered the best of all worlds, they said. But Sean considered James as nothing more than a politician.

At the entrance, the dean of the law school and Professor Jonathan Tweed greeted guests.

Cecilia scowled at the sight of Professor Tweed. “Your buddy seems to be relishing the attention as usual.”

“Can you be nice today?”

Cecilia didn’t respond. When they reached the receiving line, she skipped by Tweed and greeted the dean with a hug.

Tweed gripped Sean’s hand. “I see some things never change,” Tweed said, shooting a glance at Cecilia.

Sean shrugged.

“No wait, I take that back,” Tweed said. “Things do change. I thought you’d never sell out and join the private sector.”

“Maybe if law schools didn’t pay professors so much, we parents wouldn’t have to change jobs to afford the tuition.”

“You obviously haven’t seen my pay stub,” Tweed replied.

Sean grinned and then eyed the bandage that ran from Tweed’s left temple to the middle of his cheek. “I hope the other guy looks worse.”

“If only my life was so exciting,” Tweed said. “Biking accident—hit some gravel in Rock Creek Park. I was on a date, so it was a little embarrassing.”

“Hard to keep up with the nineteen-year-olds, I guess,” Sean said.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Tweed said, scanning for who was in earshot. “She was twenty.”

Sean emitted a small, dry laugh.

Tweed said, “I’ll come by and chat in a bit. And, hey, you’re in private practice now, so you need to actually say hello to people and be friendly.”

“Is Abby here?” Sean asked.

“I haven’t seen her. But you don’t think she’d miss out on being the envy of her classmates, do you?” Tweed pointed up. Windows lined the second-floor atrium overlooking the reception area. Law students were pressed against the glass gawking at the assemblage of legal elite.

Sean smiled. “I suppose she wouldn’t. If you see her before I do, please send her my way.”

Tweed nodded, already shaking hands with the next person in line.

“Get you a drink?” Cecilia asked. She plucked a cracker with olive tapenade from a silver tray offered by a server. Sean looked about the room. All clans accounted for. The former solicitor generals, the legal giants who got the best Supreme Court cases in private practice, mingled near the bar. At the boundaries, huddled in groups of three or four, the current staff of OSG. They talked in whispers and studiously displayed their non-alcoholic drinks. And at the center of the room, the VIPs: the dean, Supreme Court justices, members of Congress. Circling them were the nakedly ambitious. Sean saw Senator James chatting with Justice Scheuerman. The senator let out a big laugh at whatever the justice had said. Sean was sure it wasn’t that funny.

Cecilia clutched Sean’s arm. “There’s Justice Carr, let’s say hello.”

“I’d really rather just wait for the program to start.” Carr was the newest member of the high court, confirmed just a few months ago. He was the only member of The Nine whom Sean had never met. From what he knew, though, Thaddeus Dupont Carr—”T.D.” or “Touch Down” to friends—was one of those guys you loved to hate. College football star (thus the nickname), editor of the Stanford Law Review, and the youngest judge appointed to the Ninth Circuit until he breezed through the Supreme Court confirmation process.

“Come on, you’ll like him. He’s got a dry sense of humor, like you,” Cecilia said. “You’re coming.”

Cecilia soon had Justice Carr laughing. She was famously profane and didn’t censor herself for anyone, Supreme Court justices included. Carr finally turned to Sean and said, “I don’t envy you.”

Sean gave an apologetic smile and said, “Oh, Cecilia’s harmless, you just have to get used to her lack of a filter.” He’d spent a career apologizing for Cecilia.

The justice chortled. “No, I meant this morning’s story in the Post. I remember when the press was speculating about my nomination. Reporters actually dug through the trash cans at my house.”

Sean furrowed his brow. “Seriously?”

“Dead serious,” Justice Carr said. “Be careful.”

Sean nodded, not sure how to respond. After a few seconds, he opted for changing the subject. “My daughter met you recently.”

“Oh yeah?”

“She’s a law student here. Jon Tweed brought a group of his students to the court in January. Abby said your talk was ‘inspirational.’ Her word.”

The justice laughed. “Oh, to be young and so easily fooled.”

Senator James brushed by. Justice Carr’s eyes traced James’s path.

“Want some free advice?” Carr asked.

“From you?” Sean said. “Of course.”

“When I was being considered for the nomination, someone wisely told me to always keep an eye on the competition.”

Sean nodded.

“But in your case,” Carr tilted his head toward Senator James, “you might want to get a food taster.”

Cecilia was right. Sean was starting to like Justice Carr.

Copyright © 2016 Anthony Franze.

Author Bio:

Anthony Franze

ANTHONY FRANZE has garnered national praise for his work as a lawyer in the Appellate and Supreme Court practice of a major Washington D.C. law firm. The New York Times, Washington Post, and other prominent news outlets have quoted or cited Franze concerning the Supreme Court, and he has been a commentator on high-court issues for The New Republic, Bloomberg, and National Law Journal. He lives in the Washington D.C. area with his family.

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Book 340: DEAD SIMPLE Review

Dead Simple (Roy Grace #1) by Peter James
ISBN: 9781250063854 (paperback)
ISBN: 9781429958721 (ebook)
ASIN: B0042JSSSG (Kindle edition)
Publication date: October 7, 2014
Publisher: Minotaur Books (St. Martin’s Press)

If there is one place Michael Harrison never expected to die, it’s in his own grave. 

When Michael Harrison’s four best friends leave him buried alive on the night of his bachelor party, it seems like the perfect payback for his own bachelor party pranks. But moments later the four are killed in a car crash, and suddenly their harmless joke is no laughing matter. With only three days to the wedding, Detective Superintendent Grace—a man haunted by the shadow of his own missing wife—is contacted by Michael’s beautiful, distraught fiancée, Ashley Harper. Grace discovers that the one man who ought to know Michael Harrison’s whereabouts is saying nothing. But then he has a lot to gain—more than anyone realizes. For one man’s disaster is another man’s fortune. Dead simple.

It’s Michael Harrison’s stag night. He and four of his friends are on a pub crawl. Although Michael has promised his fiancée not to get too drunk, he’s having a good time and feeling virtually no pain. The only thing missing is his best friend, Mark, but Mark was out of town on business and his plane back home to Brighton has been grounded by fog. Just when things are really starting to heat up, Michael’s friends take their revenge on him for all of his stag night pranks against him and put him in a coffin in a grave. Their intention is to make him sweat a little and come back in a few hours and dig him up. As they’re driving off they are in a horrible car accident. Three die on impact and the fourth has suffered severe injuries and is comatose. Enter Detective Superintendent Roy Grace. Grace has been asked by a friend and co-worker to help out on Michael’s disappearance. Can they find Michael before his upcoming nuptials or before he dies of lack of oxygen or worse?

Dead Simple is the first in the Roy Grace series by Peter James. Grace is not your average police officer. He is relatively young to be a detective superintendent and was on a fast track until a defense attorney mocks him for his belief in the paranormal, specifically the use of psychics on his cases. Grace is thirty-nine years old and has been grieving the disappearance of his wife Sandy for nine years. He refuses to have her legally declared dead because he still holds out hope that she’ll be found. Grace’s abilities as an outstanding police officer are admired by most and it is precisely due to this admiration that his friend and co-worker Glenn Branson that he is called in on Michael Harrison’s disappearance. Roy doesn’t quite believe Michael’s best-friend and best man Mark Warren when he says he had no idea what his friends were up to on that night, he had only planned a pub crawl. Although Michael’s fiancée Ashley appears to be distraught over his disappearance, there’s something about her manner that has Roy wondering about her as well.

Dead Simple is part thriller, part suspense, part police procedural, and a great read. Roy Grace is a quirky but likeable character and wholly believable as a police officer. His interaction with friends and coworkers adds to his likeability quotient and adds to the reader’s understanding of Grace the man and Grace the police officer. This seemingly simple case of a missing man becomes anything but simple as the story evolves. Just when you think you know who is doing what and why, Mr. James throws in a nice plot twist and you’re off in a completely new direction. There are bad guys and even worse guys in this story and they provide the perfect foil for Grace and his abilities. All of the action in the story takes place over a span of five days, a fast-paced, suspense-filled five days. Does Grace find the bad guy(s) in the end? Is Michael still alive? What was the motive behind Michael’s “abduction?” You know I’m not going to reveal those types of details; you have to read this delightfully twisted story for yourself to find out. One thing I can tell you is that I’ll be reading more of the Roy Grace series by Mr. James because I’m totally hooked.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book 301: SUMMER OF THE DEAD Review

Summer of the Dead (Bell Elkins Series, Book 3) by Julia Keller
ISBN: 9781250044730 (hardcover)  
ISBN: 9781466843189 (ebook)
ASIN: B00IHCYWDY (Kindle edition)
Publication date: August 26, 2014
Publisher: Minotaur Books

West Virginia prosecuting attorney Bell Elkins’s sister has been out of jail for three months, and in that time Bell has given her a place to stay, bought her everything she needed, even put up with her constant smoking habit. Still, tensions are high and it’s not quite the homecoming reunion Bell had envisioned. When Bell gets a call in the middle of the night to pick Shirley up from a bar fight, she’s livid. But on arriving at the bar, Shirley is the least of Bell’s problems: inside, a man has been killed.

Meanwhile, nineteen-year-old Lindy Odell’s father’s health is steadily declining, and her job at the gas station is boring at best, but Lindy’s been managing just fine, thank-you. Now, though, the recent rash of violent crimes in Acker’s Gap has Lindy worried, as someone seems to be paying her a little too much attention.

With Summer of the Dead, Pulitzer-prize winner Julia Keller returns to Acker’s Gap, West Virginia in a provocative exploration of a struggling mountain town and its hardscrabble inhabitants.

Its summer time in Ackers Gap, West Virginia and the heat is oppressive. If dealing with the summer heat wasn’t bad enough, Bell Elkins and the residents of Acker’s Gap, West Virginia are also dealing with the fear left behind from a senseless murder. It’s only been a few months since the return of Bell’s sister, Shirley, and the awful murder of a teenage girl, as well as the spree of murders by a terrorist seeking revenge against one of Bell’s friends only in town for a visit. Bell’s lover suffered severe injuries during an explosion in a local eatery and their relationship seems to have fizzled out. Bell’s daughter is due in for the summer and that is the only bright spot in her immediate future. Just when Bell thinks that things can’t get any worse she receives a phone call from another county sheriff’s office that her sister is at the scene of a bar brawl that turns into a murder scene. Then another murder victim is found in Acker’s Gap and Bell’s daughter opts not to return to Acker’s Gap for the summer but go to London, England for an internship. Could things get any worse?

Be careful what questions you ask, because yes things can always get worse. After the second murder, Bell begins to wonder what an elderly retired coal miner – the first murder victim, a man that takes care of his dying mother – the second murder victim, a young lady that works at a local gas station/convenience store, and a former West Virginia governor have in common. On the surface it doesn’t appear to be much other than the fact that they are all residents of Raythune County (or at least a former resident with respect to the governor). The more Bell tries to make sense of what’s going on, the more confused and angry she becomes. The one thing Bell doesn’t do is back down from a challenge and she’s determined to find the answers behind these murders, hopefully before another murder occurs.

Summer of the Dead is the third book in the Bell Elkins series by Julia Keller. As with the previous books in this series, Ms. Keller doesn’t shy away from touchy subjects such as people getting rich or richer on the backs of the poor, politicians selling out the state to the highest bidders, environmental rape and plunder to the detriment of the everyday working man or woman, and the ever-present problems of meth/prescription drug addiction and abuse in rural areas in the state. The character Bell Elkins doesn’t whitewash her disgust at these practices and is adamant in her desire to rid at least her part of West Virginia from as many of these problems as possible. (If you haven’t read A Killing in the Hills, the first book in this series, please do so as it deals with the prescription drug abuse problem and drug trade in West Virginia in a realistic manner.)  Yes, there is widespread poverty in West Virginia. Yes there are rural areas in the state where the unemployment level is two or three times the national average. Yes, there are families that never seem to escape the hardscrabble life of their fathers and grandfathers. But there are also people like Bell Elkins that get an education and either stay or come back to make a difference. Summer of the Dead is an amazing mystery that pulled me back into Bell Elkins world. I read this book in one afternoon and only put it down to make another cup of tea or three. Ms. Keller has the ability to spin a tale that is so believable it borders on nonfiction. If you’ve read A Killing in the Hills and Bitter River you have to grab Summer of the Dead to read more about Bell Elkins and Ackers Gap. If you haven’t read the previous books in this series all I can say is, “what are you waiting for?”                                                                                                                                      
Click here to hear Ms. Keller discuss the Bell Elkins mystery series on NPR.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes from the publisher via NetGalley. I was not paid, required or otherwise obligated to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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