Open to Pawssibilities

Always looking for inspiration and generally finding it, Fran lives her life with enthusiasm and expectancy. Her two grand-dogs, an Australian Shepherd and a GBBD (Great Big Brown Dog), live nearby and provide lots of doggie licks and laughter. Nationally bestselling author of fourteen books, including the Biscuit McKee mystery series and the ScotShop mysteries, as well as A Slaying Song Tonight and From the Tip of My Pen: a workbook for writers, she lives and writes quietly with various rescued cats beside a creek on the other side of Hog Mountain, Georgia, after having moved repeatedly from her birth through her fourth decade. The small fictional towns she writes about embody the hometown she always wanted—except for the murders.

http://franstewart.com
http://www.facebook.com/FranStewartAuthor

I love the way dogs approach life. They’re always open to the endless (excuse me) pawssibilities. It’s one of their most endearing qualities. Whether it’s a Frisbee, treat time, a tug with a toy, dinner, a bush to sniff, a walk, a run in the park or just around the yard—you name it, a dog is up to it. They also make darn good characters for a murder mystery.

Consider Scamp and Silla, the two Scotties in A Wee Homicide in the Hotel. Scamp came into the ScotShop series in book number two, A Wee Dose of Death, when Gilda, the ScotShop’s assistant manager, began bringing him to work with her. Scamp won the heart of Peggy, the owner and main character, when he showed a flair for showmanship that invariably brought customers streaming into the store. He loved to pose (there is no other word for what he was doing) as only a Scottie can, on the tartan-draped ottoman in the front display window. Here’s what Peggy has to say about him:

I left for the ScotShop in a dire mood, but when I got there, my mood changed instantly. I found a crowd of people oohing in front of one of my display windows. Yesterday it had contained four kilted mannequins, several artful stacks of Fair Isle sweaters, and a selection of books, bookends, and other items. Now, nestled between two of the mannequins, was an ottoman covered in a tartan shawl that I recognized as one of Gilda’s. Scamp sprawled in Scottie splendor on the ottoman, basking in the admiration, his head resting on a soft fat Loch Ness Monster pillow.

“Come on in,” I told the crowd. “Feel free to browse.”

“I want to buy the dog,” one woman said. “Is he for sale?”

“No, but you can buy one of those sweaters next to the dog’s throne.”

I sold four sweaters, two Monster pillows, and five boxes of shortbread, thanks to Scamp. He was hired.

Then there is Silla, who joins the ScotShop canine crew in Wee Homicide. She comes to town with Big Willy, her human, for the annual Highland Festival, and almost immediately meets up with the bad human:

Silla pranced beside her person. She did not like the other one, but she enjoyed the walk along the winding streets. She tried not to listen to the two people. When they moved between two houses, left the buildings behind, and entered the forest path, she fairly quivered with excitement. This was a new place, one she had never seen before.

“Okay, you win,” her person said, and Silla heard the sadness in his voice. “But after that, I want you to leave us alone.”

Us. That was right. Silla and her person. Us.

Silla wanted that other person to go away.

“You don’t have to worry about that,” that person said. “I never want to see you again. Not after what you did to her.”

Silla looked around. To who? She didn’t see another her anywhere. Only an empty path.

Her person looked at that shiny thing on his hand and then he reached into the place where he kept Silla’s treats. Silla’s ears perked up, but all her person took out was that other thing he kept with the treats. Silla had tried to chew on it once when he left the little bag on his bed, but he had taken it away from her.

“Here they are,” her person said. “And I never want to have to deal with you again.”

The other person said something, but Silla had lost interest as soon as her person closed the treat holder. She saw a squirrel cross the path up ahead, so she ignored all the rest of the words.

It was fun writing a few scenes from the dog’s point of view. Here’s another:

Silla was delighted with such a long walk. Especially when that other person turned around and went back the way they had come. Then it was just Silla and her person. And squirrels. And bushes to sniff. And deep leaf mold. And the fragrant footprints of raccoons and even a skunk.

Her person’s footsteps got slower and slower. When he finally stopped walking altogether, Silla went back and leaned against his leg. Her nose, so full of exciting smells, caught the whiff of sadness. And of pain. And of anger. Silla stood, stretched her legs wide apart, and growled, even though she was not sure what she was growling at.

Her person laughed and reached down to stroke her back. Silla liked that. She liked the fresh happy smell. She liked being able to change her person’s unhappy to gladness.

“As long as I have you, Silla,” her person said. “As long as I have you, all that other stuff doesn’t matter.”

Silla could have told him that. If he had asked her.

As I said, the pawssibilities never end. Who’s your favorite dog in the whole world? Have you ever found a dog like your own in a mystery?

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Book Review: An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock by Terry Shames

an-unsettling-crime-for-samuel-cradddockAn Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock
A Samuel Craddock Mystery Prequel
Terry Shames
Seventh Street Books, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-63388-209-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

When the Jarrett Creek Fire Department is called to douse a blaze on the outskirts of town, they discover a grisly scene: five black young people have been murdered. Newly elected Chief of Police Samuel Craddock, just back from a stint in the Air Force, finds himself an outsider in the investigation headed by the Texas Highway Patrol. He takes an immediate dislike to John Sutherland, a racist trooper.

Craddock’s fears are realized when Sutherland arrests Truly Bennett, a young black man whom Craddock knows and respects. Sutherland cites dubious evidence that points to Bennett, and Craddock uncovers facts leading in another direction. When Sutherland refuses to relent, Craddock is faced with a choice that will define him as a lawman—either let the highway patrol have its way, or take on a separate investigation himself.

Although his choice to investigate puts both Craddock and his family in danger, he perseveres. In the process, he learns something about himself and the limits of law enforcement in Jarrett Creek.

It’s the early 1980’s, a time we like to look back on as more enlightened than the Vietnam War era but, in a rural Texas town, racism is still very much in the open, whether blatant or subtle.

I’ve had a remarkably hard time getting started with this review and it’s because Terry Shames has really plucked my emotions and, in some ways, memories. Samuel Craddock is one of my very favorite lawmen and his series is, I think, very tough to beat; An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock may just be the best installment yet (and will be on my list of favorite books for this year).

In the early 1980’s in a small town in Texas, nothing much happens but there’s a pretty severe drug problem, particularly among the younger set. In fact, Samuel was appointed chief of police, with no experience or training, because the city administrator thought his youth and brains were better suited to coping with the issue than the current chief. So far, he hasn’t really made inroads but then a terrible thing happens, a fire with five fatalities.

The house was located in Darktown, the community where all the local black people live. This is segregation, of course, but it’s not talked about or even acknowledged and racism is alive and well. Unfortunately, Samuel is officially kept out of the investigation since, according to state law, the highway patrol has jurisdiction over suspicious deaths in small towns, and then the Texas Rangers also become involved. Samuel keeps a hand in peripherally while also looking into what he believes may be a connection between the drug situation and whatever led to the killings.

Besides the arson, murder and drug investigations, we also meet Jeanne, Samuel’s beloved wife who wishes he hadn’t taken this job and his brother and sister-in-law who are never going to be named Parents of the Year. Local reporter Bonnie Bedichek will become an important, if annoying, aide in Samuel’s plans and Truly Bennett, an enterprising young man, is helping Samuel learn how to work with his brand new 20 head of cattle, Samuel’s personal dream. These people, along with many other characters, are so well-drawn that they come to life on the page and you can’t help having an emotional attachment to them, thanks to Ms. Shames‘ fine hand.

Because this is a prequel, it’s not a bad place to start the series but I think readers will do just as well to read the five books published earlier from the beginning. One way, you meet Samuel in the early days before he really knew what he was doing but was honorbound to try, and you get a taste of what influenced his later years. The other way, you learn to truly appreciate this man’s abilities, his experience, his grace, if you will, before finding out what he was like as a young, untried lawman. Take your pick—you can’t go wrong 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

A Heartbeat At A Time

Kathryn J. Bain is an award-winning author of Christian, mystery, and suspense, including the Lincolnville Mystery series and KT Morgan short suspense series.

Ms. Bain has garnered several awards, including a First Place for Short Suspense in the IDA (Independent Digital Awards), two Heart of Excellence Readers’ Choice Awards and a First Place Royal Palm Literary Award for Inspirational Fiction.

A past President of Florida Sisters in Crime and Public Relations Director for Ancient City Romance Authors, Kathryn enjoys doing talks and teaching about writing.

Kathryn has also been a paralegal for over twenty years and works for an attorney who specializes in elder law. 

http://www.kathrynjbain.com

Readers love a good suspense book. There’s nothing like feeling your heart in your throat wondering what will happen next.

In order for a book to be considered suspense, someone has to be in peril. By the end of the book, that person should be the protagonist or someone close to him or her. There should be a buildup of danger page by page.

There’s nothing I like better than to get my own heart racing with something I’ve written.

In my award-winning short suspense, Small Town Terror, three killers are driving from Virginia to Florida. It just so happens they plan to stop in a small town in North Carolina where the protagonist’s car breaks down. In this small town is also a pregnant woman who is getting ready for her baby to be born. She’s decorating the nursery, unaware of any danger. The killers are kidnapping people in small towns and holding them for ransom. Ruger, the antagonist in the story, knows that small town people will pay anything to not lose one of their own.

Unfortunately, a lot of authors don’t seem to know how to keep the suspense going throughout their book, so they resort to describing a slow kill instead. By the time the killer has his victim, the suspense is really over. It’s the steps that lead to the capture that gets the heart racing, not the murder or torture scene.

Doing a good build up is hard. Even New York Times’ authors don’t always accomplish this. But if a writer can get his own pulse ratcheted up, the reader’s pulse rate will increase as well.

A good way to do this is with a countdown. A ticking bomb. A person who is buried alive and about to run out of oxygen. In my short suspense The Visitor, the killer watches his victims for a month from their walk-in closet. I purposely put dates in each section to help build suspense. The reader knew that by the end of the month there would be a confrontation between the killer and one or both of the women in the house.

Psychological suspense is a great way to get a reader’s pulse racing. Often, their mind can add more fear than anything an author puts on the page.

If the capture of the victim is done too quickly, there is not much in the way of sweaty palms for the reader. In any good suspense book, the murder should always be shorter than the lead up to the capture.

Another way I heighten suspense is with my killer’s point of view. A lot of authors make the mistake of having their killer think about how great the knife will be against her skin. We know he plans to kill them, so it adds nothing to the suspense. I prefer making my killers creepy. He wonders about the softness of her hair. He recalls how the soon-to-be victim smells of jasmine, his mother’s favorite perfume.

A good suspense book is where the killer is the cat and the victim the mouse. He toys with her until it’s time to end the chase.

Alfred Hitchcock was an expert at the buildup. The act of killing was always minimal compared to the lead-in. Remember the first time you watched “Psycho” and the scene came on with the investigator looking for Norman Bates? The entire scene where the private investigator begins his walk up to the house takes a good three to four minutes. I don’t know about you, but I was on the edge of my seat as he climbed that staircase one step at a time. Once Mother ran out of the room, I was about to leap out of my chair.

There is nothing better than a heart-racing suspense book. It gets your blood flowing. One warning; it is not always a good idea to read them at night. The last thing you want is to try to sleep with one eye closed and the other on your walk-in closet.

How to Stop the World

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today with her thoughts on getting some control of one’s own life.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

Who remembers a Broadway musical called “Stop the World—I Want to Get Off” from 54 years ago? Anthony Newley played Littlechap and the play is an allegory of stages of a human’s life. Littlechap is trying to navigate his life and when he gets overwhelmed he cries out “Stop!” He turns to the audience and explains or complains. The hit song from the production is “What Kind of Fool Am I?”

Recently I experienced much of Littlechap’s anxieties. As many of you know I recently got a kidney transplant. I had to stay in Portland for six weeks. It was much like a vacation only instead of coming home with a tan, I came home with a scar.

Waiting for me were 3,000 emails and an answering machine filled with messages. Overwhelmed, I started to go through them. Most of the messages weren’t really important. They were disposable.

It dawned on me that lately I’d spent much of my writing career not writing. Instead, I’d been taking up too many activities, got involved with groups that ate up my time and energy. Now I had tremors from the 38 pills I had to take daily. I had to wear a surgical mask in public. The doctors told me to cut out much of my social life and give myself time to recover.

I took their advice. I announced to all my contacts that I was going to be unreachable for a while. It was a drastic move and worried many of them. But I needed the hiatus. I had gone through some major changes, physically and mentally. So, I stopped my world, jumped off and took a good look at what was going on.

My solution? There’s a reason the computer has a delete key. I hit it and all those emails vanished. If they were important, it didn’t matter. They were gone from my life. I began to say “no” instead of agreeing to every task put before me. I didn’t answer phone calls. I hate cell phones and very few people have the number.

Could you do it? Could you detach from your life for a week? It’s your world to jump in or jump off. It’s your life and you should have control.

Book Review: Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister

Girl in Disguise
Greer Macallister
Sourcebooks Landmark, March 2017
ISBN 978-1-4926-3522-2
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Inspired by the real story of investigator Kate Warne, this spirited novel follows the detective’s rise during one of the nation’s times of crisis, bringing to life a fiercely independent woman whose forgotten triumphs helped sway the fate of the country.

With no money and no husband, Kate Warne finds herself with few choices. The streets of 1856 Chicago offer a desperate widow mostly trouble and ruin―unless that widow has a knack for manipulation and an unusually quick mind. In a bold move that no other woman has tried, Kate convinces the legendary Allan Pinkerton to hire her as a detective.

Battling criminals and coworkers alike, Kate immerses herself in the dangerous life of an operative, winning the right to tackle some of the agency’s toughest investigations. But is the woman she’s becoming―capable of any and all lies, swapping identities like dresses―the true Kate? Or has the real disguise been the good girl she always thought she was?

Kate Warne really was the first female detective with the Pinkerton Agency, a woman far ahead of her time and with prodigious abilities; you can read more about her here. Ms. Macallister now offers a fictional account of this endlessly fascinating woman and brings Kate to life for us.

Kate’s adventures don’t seem all that exciting, on the surface, until you remind yourself she was a 23-year-old female doing a traditionally man’s job in 1856. To say she had to overcome some gender-based obstacles would be an understatement but she proved her worth and validated Allan Pinkerton’s decision to give her a chance. In effect, Kate broke the glass ceiling for all the women detectives who followed her.

The reader looking for a typical mystery won’t find it here because there’s no particular case to be solved. Rather, this is a lively recounting of a private detective’s adventures, made more interesting by the times and the excitement of being a Pinkerton.

The fun of this book lies in all the detective stuff we fell in love with as children—codes, deception, disguises and general shenanigans along with derring-do—and the tale is told by Kate herself, giving it a taste of reality as it existed in the mid-nineteenth century, especially during the Civil War. Ms. Macallister doesn’t fill the pages with thrills and chills but, considering how little is known about this captivating woman, she gives Kate a real presence.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2017.

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Purchase Links:

Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon

Book Depository // Indiebound 

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An Excerpt from Girl in Disguise

THE FIRST DISGUISE

August 1856

Like any Chicago tavern in deep summer, Joe Mulligan’s stank. It stank of cigars smoked the week before, months before, years before. Tonight’s smoke pooled against the basement ceiling in a noxious cloud. I acted like I smelled only roses. The woman I was pretending to be would have done the same.

I was also pretending the sharp tang of men’s sweat surrounding me didn’t terrify me. These were not good men. But I wasn’t a good woman, not tonight. My mission was to ignore the smoke and the sweat, blind a bad man with a wicked smile, and wring out his secrets. There would be no second chance.

So I breathed as shallowly as I could and made my way through the crowd to the bar. Men’s bodies brushed mine, hips and hands and God only knows what, lingering on my shoulder and every- where below. My nerves frayed, and I stumbled. With anything less at stake, I would have fled Joe Mulligan’s as if it were on fire. But I needed the money. The money would save me.

“Drink?” snapped the barkeep.

I squared my shoulders and answered him as the woman I was pretending to be.

“Well, I sure am thirsty,” I said, lowering my head as if sharing a confidence, “but I’m waiting on a friend.”

Empty glass in hand, he looked me over. The low-sweeping neckline of my claret silk gown and the pale expanse of décolletage it artfully framed. The intricately curled hair piled atop my head, shot through with ribbons. The coy smile, all lips, no teeth. I saw recognition flash in his eyes.

“Do your business, but don’t make no trouble,” he said and moved on down the bar to a knot of raucous, rowdy men. The first gate, passed. Now, I was just waiting.

And waiting.

At least thirty long minutes crawled by, and with each one, my relief drained away. The same disguise that had fooled the bartender fooled the patrons. Man after man took turns perching on the red leather stool next to me. They bent close. Their mouths offered drinks and conversation, but their eyes made it clear what they really wanted.

I hadn’t expected to be the only woman in the place. This late at night, the slatterns of Chicago did a brisk business in establishments like Joe Mulligan’s, which is why I’d chosen this place and time. I’d known how it would look and what they would think. But the practice was turning out to be much harder than the theory. Every man had to be skillfully parried away. A single slip would waste the night. The effort exhausted me.

“Oh, sir,” I was saying to the latest one, fluttering my fingers at him, “you do me a kindness. But I really must insist you leave that seat free for my companion.”

He leaned closer, breathing almost into my mouth, and slurred, “I’ll be your companion, sugar.”

I swallowed my disgust and kept my voice steady. Be pleasant, I told myself. Cheerful. Bland. “He’ll be here any minute, I’m certain of it,” I said and gazed over his shoulder hopefully. As if in answer, the door to the outside creaked open.

Rumbles of laughter sounded as half a dozen men guffawed their way down the stairs into the tavern. I recognized my target immediately. He wasn’t the tallest of them, nor the most handsome, but it was clear he was in charge. His smirk showed he was the one who’d told the joke everyone was laughing at.

Henry Venable, better known as Heck, was a sallow man with deep-set, hooded eyes. He wore a hat worn soft with age. The rest of his clothes were so new they practically gleamed. If I were closer, I’d be able to see my reflection in his shoes. He looked, unmistakably, like he’d recently come into money. Which the Pinkerton Detective Agency and the First Eagle Savings Bank believed he had, several weeks before, with the help of three accomplices and four shotguns. Eyewitnesses had given a description that matched Heck’s, but it wasn’t enough. The best way to prove he’d done it was to find the money. He’d spent some of it, clearly, but rare was the man who could spend five thousand dollars in less than a month without leaving some kind of trail. The rest had to be hidden somewhere.

I had to find out where.

Easy, easy, I told myself. I couldn’t shove my way over to him right off the bat. I had to get him to come to me. Somehow.

Still laughing and jostling one another, the six men took their seats at a booth in the corner, much farther away than I would’ve liked. I was too far off to catch his eye, and it would look odd if I changed my seat for no reason. Given that, I sidled down the bar and forced myself to slide onto an empty stool next to a stoop- shouldered man. I sat much closer to him than I needed to and dangled one foot close to his.

“Evening,” I said.

He glared at me through bleary eyes, clearly three sheets to the wind already, maybe four. Well, that wasn’t all bad. He couldn’t cause me trouble if he slipped out of consciousness. I hoped.

“Evening,” he slurred, barely able to manage even the two required syllables.

“What’re you drinking? Looks delicious. I sure could use a drink myself,” I said and gestured to the empty bar in front of me.

He managed to raise two fingers to the bartender, who came right away—clearly, this was a regular—and said, “’Nother round, Jim.”

“Coming right up.”

I edged even closer to him and peeked over my shoulder as discreetly as I could toward Heck and his men. All seated, and some looked restless. Good. There were still possibilities.

My ever-drunker neighbor half raised his glass of bourbon to me. I took a sip and nearly choked. It took all my concentration not to gasp at the burning, searing sensation. I’d have to get better at that. Any man in possession of his faculties could easily see I wasn’t used to strong drink. Tonight, this one’s faculties were thoroughly drowned, but that was luck on my part, not skill. If I made it through this night, I’d put it on my list of things to learn.

Finally, one of Heck’s men eased out of the booth. As I’d hoped, he came toward the bar, into the larger-than-usual space on my far side. He flagged down the bartender and rattled off a complicated order. As soon as he was done and his elbow was resting on the bar next to me, I ignored my marinated neighbor, as I’d planned, and leaned over toward him, my décolletage almost spilling out onto his arm.

“Evening,” I said.

He nodded back silently. He was a striking man, with blue eyes like ice under his thick black brows, but there was something cruel about his face. Something cold. Locked away.

I’d have to generate enough warmth for both of us. “Say,” I nearly purred, inclining my head toward the booth, “would you mind introducing me to your friends there?”

“Yes, I’d mind very much,” he said, turned square toward the bar, and then ignored me as if someone were paying him a goodly sum to do so.

Damn it. The wrong target, I supposed, but what was I to do? I was beginning to panic in earnest. Heck was only ten feet away from me, but he might as well be ten miles if I couldn’t get myself into his orbit. I had it all planned out. Delicate fingers laid on his arm. Breathless, admiring questions. He was known as a boaster with an eye, and other parts, for the ladies. If I was in the right place at the right time—which I was so, so close to being—I could get him to boast to me. Then I’d have what Pinkerton wanted, and in turn, he’d give me what I wanted: a position as the first female operative of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, at full salary.

But it all depended on Heck, and to get to him, I had to get through this man-shaped woodcut first. And all he was doing was staring at the barkeep, waiting.

We stayed like that a few minutes. My brain worked madly, thoughts zooming and swooping around my skull, but I had no good ideas. It could all fall apart this easily. Damn it. Damn it. The drunk on my other side finally laid his head down on the bar; he’d be no help.

At last, another man rose from the booth and joined Blue Eyes, standing close to both of us. His hair was drenched with brillian- tine, and his small, sad mustache was little more than a pencil line above his lip. “Boss wants to know what’s taking so long.”

“See for yourself,” said the taller one, inclining his head in the direction of the culprit, who was hard at work pouring coppery brown liquid out of a silver shaker into six matching coupes. “Ragman’s taking his sweet time.”

The new arrival inclined his head toward me. “Looks to me like you’re caught up in conversation.”

“Heavens no,” I said, pivoting my body toward  his.  “This clod couldn’t make conversation if I spotted him both ends of the sentence. Are you more of a…talker?”

“I could be,” he said with a wolf’s leer.

“Then perhaps I might join your party?” I smiled, but not too wide. Softly, sweetly. Let him think me a sheep.

“Sounds good to me,” he said. “No,” said the first man.

“You’re no fun,” said the second.

“That may be,” said Blue Eyes. “But no need for the boss to get distracted. There’s business to be done.”

“Aw, plenty of time for business when the sun rises,” Mustache replied. “Tonight, I think he’s more in the mood to celebrate, if you catch my drift.”

“I like to celebrate,” I said.

“I bet you do,” both men said in unison, with very different inflections.

With much clattering and fanfare, the bartender finally poured the sixth drink and pushed the glasses across the bar. Mustache immediately grabbed one in each hand. The elegant stems looked especially fragile in his fists. He carried them over to the table, where his arrival was greeted with appreciative hoots.

I assumed Blue Eyes would follow, but instead, he grabbed my elbow sharply and growled in my ear, “What are you playing at?”

“What?”

“Walk away,” he said. “Right now. Walk away.” “No,” I hissed, but my heart pounded.

“All right, then. Come with me.” “I’ll scream,” I said.

“You do that,” he said, cool as the far side of the pillow.

He was right. A scream would call attention my way, but what for? What man among these would rush to my side? I scanned their faces. Heck Venable and his crew were hardly the only wrongdoers here, and some were doubtless worse than mere robbers. First Eagle had been knocked over with no fatalities. There were things far worse than money to steal. I was likely better off taking my chances with Blue Eyes, as poor a prospect as that seemed.

Mustache returned for the rest of the drinks. “You helping?” he asked, clearly confused.

“Naw, you take ’em. I’ll be back in two shakes,” said the taller man, shifting his grip on my elbow around to the inside, so it looked less overtly threatening. His long, rough fingers moved over the delicate skin on my inner arm, and I couldn’t suppress a shiver.

“Oh, I see,” leered Mustache.

Annoyance crossed his face, but Blue Eyes said, “Don’t drink mine. I won’t be long.”

“Sure.”

I wished I could think of something to say to Mustache that would result in him getting me away from Blue Eyes, but my mind was a blank. I never should have taken such a risk. Never should have come here. I didn’t even protest as the taller man hauled me to my feet.

“This way,” he said, steering me up the stairs. I dragged my feet as much as I dared, and a new wave of terror swept over me. Upstairs was the hotel. That was a key reason Joe Mulligan’s was particularly popular with the whores of Chicago: convenience.

His hand was locked around my arm like an iron cuff. He didn’t relax his grip at all, even while using his other hand to unlock the door of a room that I assumed to be his. My throat was dry, and my head swam. Damn it, damn it. I’d disguised myself as a prostitute to crack the case, believing it the best, if not the only, way to achieve my aim. Now, unless a miracle happened, I’d have to choose between certain exposure and an unthinkable act. Blue Eyes was clearly expecting me to follow through on my disguise. Unless I wanted to give up all hope of ever gaining the confidence of Heck Venable and prying loose his secrets, I’d have to deliver on my unspoken promise and do what prostitutes do.

With one more tug, he pulled me inside the room and shut the door.

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About the Author

Raised in the Midwest, Greer Macallister is a poet, short story writer, playwright and novelist whose work has appeared in publications such as The North American Review, The Missouri Review, and The Messenger. Her plays have been performed at American University, where she earned her MFA in Creative Writing. She lives with her family in Brooklyn.

Social Media Links:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/theladygreer

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/theladygreer/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/greermacallister/

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“an exciting, well-crafted historical novel. Loaded with
suspense and action, this is a well-told, superb story.”
 Publishers Weekly, STARRED 

“Macallister’s story is a rip-roaring, fast-paced treat to
read, with compelling characters, twisted villains, and
mounds of historical details adeptly woven into the tale
of a courageous woman who loves her job more than
anything or anyone else.” – Booklist

Book Review: Onions in the Stew by Betty MacDonald

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Book Review: Dig Two Graves by Kim Powers

Dig Two Graves
Kim Powers
Tyrus Books, December 2015
ISBN 978-1-4405-9192-1
Trade Paperback

Skip Holt’s world as she knew it ended the day her mother died in a car crash [always bringing to her mind a poem she had had to learn in school by Robert Frost].  There is much erudition here, as Skip’s father makes his living “by teaching about the past, the very long ago past.  The Classics, Greece, Rome, Latin.”   Indeed, the novel begins with a quote from Confucius:  “Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”  And revenge is what this book is all about.  “The classics were all about it – – getting revenge, declaring enemies, going to war.”

From the publisher:  In his 20’s, Ethan Holt won the Decathlon at the Olympics and was jokingly nicknamed “Hercules;” now, in his late 30’s, he’s returned to his ivy-covered alma mater to teach, and to raise his young daughter Skip as a single father.  After a hushed-up scandal over his Olympics win and the death of his wife in a car accident five years ago, Ethan wants nothing more than to forget his past. Skip is not only the light of Ethan’s life – – she is his life. Then, Skip is kidnapped.  A series of bizarre ransom demands start coming in that stretch Ethan’s athletic prowess to its limits, and he realizes with growing horror that they are modern versions of the Twelve Labors of Hercules, demanded in tricky, rhyming clues by someone who seems to have followed every step of Ethan’s career.  To solve the mystery and get his daughter back, Ethan teams up with a force-of-nature female detective, Aretha Mizell, who carries some secrets of her own.  As Ethan races from Labor to Labor, we enter the mysterious abandoned schoolhouse where Skip is being held captive, and we begin to hear the fantastic and strangely heartbreaking story of the kidnapper and his link to Ethan’s past. The clues begin to point not only to Ethan’s athletic career, but to his childhood, and to a family history as troubled and bizarre as those of any
of the legendary, mythic character he teaches.

The novel opens on a late Fall day in New England, the day Ethan turns 39 and receives tenure at the college where he teaches, and where Skip, now 13, has planned a party for him.  Suddenly things take a decidedly ugly [well, uglier] turn, one as to which the reader has been given a hint, with a glimpse of a stalker, “the man with a plan,” and things escalate beyond anything the reader might expect.  The writing is riveting, with one shocking turn at Chapter 31, and the identity of the kidnapper not known until Chapter 55, with the book ending on a somewhat enigmatic note 50 pages later.  A page-turner of a book, it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Gloria Feit, December 2016.