Book Review: Murder Is Not a Girl’s Best Friend by Rob Bates @robbatesauthor @CamelPressBooks @partnersincr1me

Murder is Not a Girl’s Best Friend

by Rob Bates

February 28 – March 11, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

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Murder Is Not a Girl’s Best Friend
The Diamond District Mystery Series, #2

Rob Bates
Camel Press, February 2022
ISBN 978-1-94207-818-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Journalist-turned-amateur-sleuth Mimi Rosen is back with her father Max for another action-packed tale of murder and intrigue in New York City’s Diamond District.

A Reverend from Africa has found a sparkling $20 million diamond that he hopes will free his continent from the scourge of blood diamonds. But this attempt to do good soon turns very bad. After the diamond is stolen and leads to a series of murders, Mimi discovers both the diamond and the Reverend have a less-than-sparkling history.

Soon, Mimi is investigating a web of secrets involving a shady billionaire, a corrupt politician, Africa’s diamond fields, offshore companies, as well as an activist, filmmaker, computer genius, and police detective who may or may not be as noble as they appear. Is the prized gem actually a blood diamond?

The diamond found by the Reverend really is a blood diamond and his intentions to use it to combat the dark side of the diamond trade in Africa seems to be doomed. This becomes particularly obvious when murders follow the theft of the jewel and then journalist Mimi Rosen begins to unearth an unholy collection of bad guys engaged in corruption worse than many understand.
 
Mimi is already frustrated by having to work for her diamond seller father rather than pursuing her journalistic career but working in the Diamond District at least gives her some investigative advantages regarding the Hope for Humanity diamond that does indeed embody hope but also deep distress. It soon becomes plain that there’s a lot of dark history in the diamond trade and Mimi, along with the film-maker, Anita, that Mimi is working with discover that trust is difficult to find.
 
Murder Is Not a Girl’s Best Friend is an entertaining read complete with an intriguing plot and interesting characters both good and bad. Although it’s the second book in the series, it stands well on its own and I recommend it.
 
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2022.

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An Excerpt from Murder Is Not a Girl’s Best Friend

CHAPTER ONE

Mimi Rosen felt terrible. She felt like crap. She was overcome by guilt—the kind that gets lodged in your throat and stays there. Her day at the “Social Responsibility and the Diamond Industry” conference had been draining and dispiriting, as one speaker after another grimly recited the industry’s ills. They acknowledged that conflict diamonds—which fueled civil wars in countries like the African Democratic Republic, or the ADR—were far less of a problem, and many diamond mines benefited local economies. Then came the “but.” As Mimi’s father said, “in life, there’s always a but.” “Beautiful gems shouldn’t have ugly histories,” thundered Brandon Walters, a human rights activist known for his scorching exposés of the ADR’s diamond industry. “This—” he aimed his finger at the screen behind him, “is how ten percent of the world’s diamonds are found.” Up popped a photo of an African boy, who couldn’t have been older than sixteen. He was standing in a river the color of rust, wearing nothing but cut-off jeans, bending over with a strainer. Mimi could see his vertebrae under his skin, feel the sun beating down on him, sense the stress and strain on his back. “That kid is paid two dollars a day for his labor,” Walters declared. “If you sell diamonds, this may not be your fault.” He paused for emphasis. “But it is your responsibility.” Walters had sandy-blonde hair, high cheekbones, a perfectly trimmed goatee, a ponytail that flopped as he talked, and a South African accent was so plummy it sounded affected. He looked to be in his mid-twenties but had the bearing and confidence of someone ten years older. Unlike the other activists, who delivered their speeches in whispery monotones with their eyes glued to the podium, Walters planted his feet firmly at the center of the stage and stood on it like he owned it. He peppered his talk with splashes of theater, dropping his voice to signal despair, or cranking it up to roar disapproval. Mimi didn’t want to close her eyes to his message, but knew she might have to, to preserve her sanity. Diamonds were now how she made her living. She had been working at her father’s company for over a year—a fact she sometimes found hard to believe. She occasionally dreamed of again working as a reporter—the only thing in life she had ever wanted to be. But journalism had become an industry that people escaped from, rather than to. She had hoped the conference would inspire her. She had even convinced her father, Max, to come. Instead, the sessions made her feel depressed and sorry for herself—which didn’t feel right, as she was hearing about extreme poverty in a plush New York City auditorium with the air conditioning cranked, while the summer sun broiled the streets outside. She also knew the industry’s problems weren’t so easy to fix. When Mimi started working at her dad’s company, Max seemed intrigued by her idea of a socially-responsible diamond brand. She was excited to help change the industry. Then the project ran into roadblocks. She never quite determined what a “good” diamond was. What if it was unearthed by one of the diggers Brandon Walters talked about, who earned two dollars a day? Human rights activists condemned that as exploitive. Yet, they also admitted those workers had few other sources of income and would be far worse off if the industry vanished. They didn’t want to kill the business; they wanted to reform it. Mimi wasn’t an expert on any of this—and even those who were didn’t always agree. Mimi spent many nights and weekends researching these issues, and ended up frustrated, as the answers she sought just weren’t there. When her project began losing money, her father started losing patience. Mimi hoped that dragging her father to this conference would reignite his interest. Nope. “These people act like everything is our fault. All minerals have issues.” Like many in the diamond business, Max believed his industry was unfairly picked on. He fixed his yarmulke on his bald head, so it stayed bobby pinned to one of his side-tufts of hair. “I haven’t done anything wrong. I’m only trying to pay my rent.” Max spent most of the conference with his arms crossed, his face toggling between bored and annoyed. If he had a phone, he’d probably spend the day staring at it. But he didn’t, which was another issue. Following Walters’ talk, he leaned over to Mimi. “I should call Channah for my messages.” Mimi gave him her mobile and a dirty look. He had already borrowed her phone six times that day. She considered lecturing her father to get over his stupid aversion to buying a cell phone, so he didn’t constantly pester the receptionist to see who called. But she’d also done that six times that day. Besides, she was intrigued by the day’s final speaker. Abraham Boasberg grabbed the crowd’s attention the moment he stepped on stage. “I believe there is a reason that God put diamonds in the poor countries and made rich countries desire them,” he bellowed, puffing out his barrel chest. “And I’m going to prove it.” Mimi sat up and thought, who was this guy? She soon found out. Boasberg was six feet tall, stocky, bearded, with a bright red yarmulke capping a salt-and-pepper mop of curly hair. He worked in the diamond business, and his words came fast and forceful. Like Brandon Walters, he seemed to savor being the center of attention. He had a mike clipped to his suit and prowled the stage like a panther. His presence filled the auditorium. “This whole conference, we have heard about the problems of our trade. They are real. The people who dig diamonds are part of our industry. They deserve to be treated fairly. “But we must do more than just complain,” he declared, holding up his index finger. “We need solutions! “What if diamonds, which once helped rip the African Democratic Republic apart, could put it back together? What if they built new roads, schools, and hospitals?” He stopped and took a breath, his chest heaving. “What if diamonds became symbols of hope?” Max returned to his seat and handed Mimi back her phone. She was so entranced with Boasberg, she barely noticed. “A few months ago,” Boasberg proclaimed, “a local Reverend in the African Democratic Republic found a one-hundred-and-seventeen-carat piece of rough on his property. It has since been cut into a sixty- six-carat piece of polished, about the size of a marble. It has been graded D Flawless, the highest grade a diamond can get. It’s the most valuable diamond ever found in the ADR. It’s worth twenty million. Easy.” A giant triangular gem appeared on the screen behind him, gleaming like a sparkly pyramid. Max’s eyebrows shot up. This guy was talking diamond talk, a language he understood. “But that is more than a beautiful diamond.” Boasberg declared, sweat beading on his forehead. “That is the future.” “Here’s what usually happens with diamonds in the ADR. In most cases, miners hand them over to their supporter, who’s basically their boss who pays their bupkis. Or, if they’re freelance, they’ll sell them to a local dealer, who pays them far below market value. The miners don’t know how much the diamonds are worth, and they’re usually hungry and just want a quick buck. “And since the ADR has no money to police its borders, most dealers smuggle diamonds out of the country to avoid taxes. As a result, the ADR gains little from what comes out of its soil. Its resources are being systematically looted. “When I met Reverend Kamora, I told him, consumers are turning away from diamonds because they believe they don’t help countries like yours. That further hurts your people. Now, instead of working for two dollars a day, they’ll do the same work for even less. “But what if we can flip the script? What if this diamond helps your country? And what if we let people know that? That will increase its value. It’s documented that people will pay extra for products that do good, like Fair Trade Coffee. It’s the same reason kosher food is more expensive. It’s held to a higher standard. “If we get more money for this diamond, soon every gem from the ADR will be sold this way. We’ll do an end run around the dealers who have robbed the country blind. We’ll turn ADR diamonds into a force for good.” He pivoted to the screen. “Let’s talk about this gorgeous gemstone. We wanted to call it the Hope Diamond. That name was taken.” A few members of the audience tittered. “We’re calling it the Hope for Humanity Diamond. Four weeks from now, we’ll auction it from my office, live on the Internet. We want the whole world to watch. We’ll even sell it in a beautiful box produced with locally mined gold.” On screen, a glittering yellow box appeared. The diamond sat inside it, perched like a king on a throne. “What celebrity wouldn’t want to wear a diamond called the Hope for Humanity?” Boasberg asked. “It will make them look glamorous and morally superior.” The audience laughed. “This diamond—” he exclaimed as spit flew out of his mouth, “will transform a continent.” He stretched out his arms, revealing pit stains the size of pancakes. “So many conferences talk about Africa, but you never hear from people who actually live there. And so, I’ve flown in the Reverend who found the diamond, to talk about what it can do for his country. Reverend Kamora, can you come here, please?” The auditorium grew quiet as small middle-aged Reverend Kamora shuffled to the front. He walked slowly, gripping the guardrail as he climbed the stairs to the stage. When he finally arrived at the microphone, Mimi could barely hear him; his voice was low and delicate, with the soft cadence of a bell. “For years,” he began, “blood diamonds were a curse on my country. Things happened that were hard to describe. They haunt us still.” He paused, as he momentarily got choked up. “The African Democratic Republic has known two decades of peace, but not one minute of prosperity. Like many people in my country, I dig for diamonds for extra money. It’s hard work. I don’t make much from it. But I have no choice. “Many people who work in my country’s diamond fields don’t understand why people in the rich countries buy diamonds. Some believe they are magic. And when I found this gem in a riverbed, sparkling in the sun, I thought God had blessed me with a bit of magic. “But God’s real gift came when I met Mr. Boasberg. He told me that we could hold an auction for this diamond, receive a better price for it, and ensure the proceeds benefit the people of my country. “I hope you tune into the auction of the Hope for Humanity Diamond four weeks from today. Together, we can change my country’s diamonds from a curse to a blessing. That will really be magic.” After a tough day, Mimi felt a smidgen of optimism. When Reverend Kamora finished speaking, her eyes were filled with tears. She peered at her father. He was asleep. After Reverend Kamora toddled from the stage, Boasberg bounded back to answer questions. A man approached the microphone in the middle of the audience. “Mr. Boasberg,” he asked, “what are you getting out of this?” “Nothing,” Boasberg smiled. “I’m not even taking a commission. I see this as the way forward for the business that I love, and a country I care about.” “Mr. Boasberg,” a second person asked, “how do we know the money will go where you say it will?” “Our accounts will be posted online and completely transparent. We’ll account for every penny.” On it went, Boasberg swatting back every question with the grace of a tennis pro. Maybe it was the journalist in her, but Mimi was growing skeptical. Boasberg’s almost-Messianic tone struck her as too good to be true. Just then, she heard a familiar voice at the microphone. It was Brandon Walters, the activist who spoke earlier. “Mr. Boasberg, I’m intrigued by your new initiative,” he said. Mimi braced herself for the “but.” “But when you talk about dealers who’ve robbed the country blind, you didn’t mention you were once partners with the worst offender.” Boasberg’s nostrils flared. He looked down at Walters like he wanted to kill him. The young activist plucked the mic from its stand and spun around to address the audience. “For those unaware, Mr. Boasberg used to own a company with Morris Novak. During the civil war in the African Democratic Republic, Morris Novak was one of the biggest dealers in blood diamonds. He remains a significant player in the industry, though his main business today is money laundering. Diamonds are kind of a sideline. “For years, I’ve sought to expose Morris Novak’s corruption. In response, he has repeatedly threatened to sue me. Our friend Mr. Boasberg could help by supplying information about Novak’s business dealings. He won’t.” He circled back to Boasberg. “So, while it’s admirable you want to play a role in the ADR’s future, maybe first, you should come clean about your past.” There was a smattering of applause. Throughout Walters’ speech, Boasberg appeared ready to erupt, and when it ended, that’s what he did. “First of all,” he boomed, “you are correct, Morris Novak is my former partner. Let me emphasize former. I haven’t worked with him in six years. Is that long enough for you? “Second, who the hell cares? This is old news. The problem with you non-government organizations, you NGOs, is you’re always pointing fingers. Maybe if you stop the holier-than-thou B.S., you could help do something good.” Walters seemed to relish this reaction. “I’m just saying,” he shot back, “that given your history, and that of certain of your, shall we say, ‘associates,’ you’re an unlikely savior for the ADR.” This sent Boasberg into a fury. The bickering grew so loud, even Max woke up. The moderator—a middle-aged woman with silvering hair wrapped in a bun—hurried to the stage and declared question time was over. “Thank you, Mr. Boasberg for that inspiring presentation,” she said, with a jittery squeak. “The conference organizers would like to present you this humanitarian award for your efforts.” The award was likely pre-arranged and came off as awkward with Walters’ question hanging in the air. The moderator rushed through her praise of Boasberg, while he impatiently fingered the marble statue. When she finished, he stormed off the stage. The moderator gamely tried to end the meeting on an upbeat note, saying it had many “impactful takeaways” and “urgent calls to action,” and reminding everyone to attend the post-conference cocktails in the next room. No one listened. They were digesting that final spectacle. So was Mimi. Walters’ question had transformed Boasberg from a passionate plain speaker to another defensive diamond dealer, like her dad. Maybe he was too good to be true. *** Excerpt from Murder is Not a Girl’s Best Friend by Rob Bates. Copyright 2022 by Rob Bates. Reproduced with permission from Rob Bates. All rights reserved.

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About the Author

Rob Bates has written about the diamond industry for close to 30 years. He is currently the news director of JCK, the leading publication in the jewelry industry, which just celebrated its 150th anniversary. He has won 12 editorial awards, and been quoted as an industry authority in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and on National Public Radio. He is also a comedy writer and performer, whose work has appeared on Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update segment, comedycentral.com, and Mcsweeneys He has also written for Time Out New York, New York Newsday, and Fastcompany.com. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and son.

Catch Up With Rob Bates:

RobBatesAuthor.com

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BookBub – @robbates922
Instagram – @robbatesauthor
Twitter – @robbatesauthor
Facebook – @robbatesauthor

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Book Review: Denied by Mary Keliikoa @mary_keliikoa @CamelPressBooks @tlcbooktours

Denied
A Kelly Pruett Mystery #2
Mary Keliikoa
Camel Press, May 2021
ISBN 978-1-60381-783-7
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A high-risk pregnancy. A dangerous secret. When her case turns deadly, can this investigator avoid racking up a fatal debt?

PI Kelly Pruett’s search to locate a former classmate’s missing father ends in what appears to be a tragic accident. But putting the pieces together that led to that fateful night will require Kelly to play a high risk game of chance with a killer willing to gamble everything to win.

As private investigators go, Kelly Pruett has one quality that sets her apart to my way of thinking. Like Goldilocks and her bears, Kelly is not overwhelmingly good at her job nor is she TSTL. No, this lady falls right in the middle, meaning she has the smarts she needs most of the time but occasionally goes haywire. In other words, she’s normal and I really appreciate that.

Kelly was injured on the job in her first book and is still recovering but, let’s face it, an overload of cheating significant others can be a tad boring. Hearing from an old friend whose estranged dad is missing gives Kelly the chance to work on something a little more interesting. Little does she know this case is going to turn ugly all too soon and she’ll find herself up against the mob.

In this second adventure, Mary Keliikoa continues establishing Kelly as a woman of thought and determination, one who does her best to balance work with her personal life, especially her deaf daughter. I like Kelly and I’m already anticipating book # 3.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2021.

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Purchase Links:
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About the Author

Mary Keliikoa is the author of the Lefty and Agatha award nominated PI Kelly Pruett mystery series and the upcoming Misty Pines mystery series featuring Sheriff Jax Turner slated for release in September 2022. Her short stories have appeared in Woman’s World and in the anthology Peace, Love and Crime: Crime Fiction Inspired by Music of the ‘60s. A Pacific NW native, she spent a part of her life working around lawyers. Combining her love of legal and books, she creates a twisting mystery where justice prevails.

When not in Washington, you can find Mary on the beach in Hawaii where she and her husband recharge. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun, she’s plotting her next murder—novel that is.

Find out more about Mary on her websiteInstagramTwitter, and Facebook.

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Book Review: Derailed by Mary Keliikoa @mary_keliikoa @CamelPressBooks @partnersincr1me

Derailed
A Kelly Pruett Mystery #1
Mary Keliikoa
Camel Press, May 2020
ISBN 978-1-60381-706-6
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

A dying wish. A secret world.

Can this grieving investigator stay on the right track?

PI Kelly Pruett is determined to make it on her own. And juggling clients at her late father’s detective agency, a controlling ex, and caring for a deaf daughter was never going to be easy. She takes it as a good sign when a letter left by her dad ties into an unsolved case of a young woman struck by a train.

Hunting down the one person who can prove the mysterious death was not just a drunken accident, Kelly discovers this witness is in no condition to talk. And the closer she gets to the truth the longer her list of sleazy suspects with murderous motives grows. Each clue exposes another layer of the victim’s steamy double life.

Can Kelly pinpoint the murderer, or is she on the fast track to disaster?

It all begins with a secret.

Kelly Pruett may be relatively inexperienced as a private investigator but that doesn’t mean she’s out of her depth. Before her father’s death, she worked alongside him and completed the requisite 1,500 hours of training. She just hasn’t taken on any “real” cases, until the day that Georgette Hanson walks through the door. The grieving mother wants someone to look into her daughter’s death a few weeks earlier when she was hit by a train and Kelly agrees to do so, prompted by the enigmatic letter her father left behind, somehow connected to this woman.

In addition to tracking down the truth about Brooke’s death, Kelly has plenty going on in her personal life what with her ex and his mother continually meddling in the raising of her deaf child but it helps that she has Floyd, a Basset Hound who always seems to know when a little comforting attention is in order. Of course, otherwise, he’d just as soon be napping, thank you very much. Floyd is one of my favorite characters, not that he helps out with the sleuthing, mind you; no, he’s just a good ol’ dawg.

Even a seasoned PI would be distracted by all the convoluted leads and deep, dark secrets Kelly soon discovers but she won’t be deterred and, in the end, learns a lot about Brooke and her shadier side and also about what it means to be a legitimate private investigator. This is a well-conceived and well-written debut and I like Kelly very much with all her normal, human shortcomings plus I’m happy to have another strong, intelligent woman on the job 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, September 2020.

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An Excerpt from Derailed

CHAPTER 1

Portland, Oregon has as many parts as the human anatomy. Like the body, some are more attractive than others. My father’s P.I. business that I’d inherited was in what many considered the armpit, the northeast, where pickpockets and drug dealers dotted the narrow streets and spray paint tags of bubble-lettered gang signatures striped the concrete. In other words, home. I’m Kelly Pruett and I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

I’d just finished invoicing a client for a skip trace and flicked off the light in the front office my dad and I used to share when a series of taps came from the locked front door. It was three o’clock on a gloomy Friday afternoon. A panhandler looking for a handout or a bathroom was my best guess. Sitting at the desk, I couldn’t tell.

Floyd, my basset hound and the only real man in my life, lifted his droopy eyes to meet mine before flopping his head back down on his bed. No help there.

Another rap, louder this time.

Someone wanted my attention. I retrieved the canister of pepper spray from my purse and opened the door to a woman, her umbrella sheltering her from the late October drizzle. Her angle made it hard to see her face, only the soft curls in her hair and the briefcase hanging from her hand. I slipped the pepper spray into the pocket of my Nike warmup jacket.

“Is Roger Pruett in?” she asked, water droplets splatting the ground.

She hadn’t heard the news and I hadn’t brought myself to update R&K Investigation’s website. I swallowed the lump before it could form and clutch my throat. “No, sorry,” I said. “My dad died earlier this year. I’m his daughter, Kelly.”

“I’m so sorry.” She peered from under the umbrella, her expression pinched. She searched my face for a different answer.

I’d give anything to have one. “What do you need?”

“To hire a P.I. to investigate my daughter’s death. Can you help me?” Her voice cracked.

My stomach fluttered. Process serving, court document searches, and the occasional tedious stakeout had made up the bulk of my fifteen hundred hours of P.I. experience requirement. Not that I wasn’t capable of more. Dad had enjoyed handling cases himself with the plan to train me later. In the year since his death, no one had come knocking, and going through the motions of what I knew how to do well had been hard enough. Now this lady was here for my father’s help. I couldn’t turn her away. I raked my fingers through the top of my shoulder length hair and opened the door. “Come in.”

“Bless you.” She slid her umbrella closed and brushed past me.

After securing the lock, I led her through the small reception area and into my office. A bathroom and another office that substituted for a storage closet were down the long hallway heading to the rear exit. Floyd decided to take interest and lumbered over. With his butt in the air, he stretched at her feet before nearly snuffling my soon-to-be client’s shoe up his nose. She nodded at him before vicious Floyd found his way back to his corner, tail swaying behind him. Guess he approved.

The woman looked in her mid-sixties. She had coiffed hair the color of burnt almonds, high cheekbones, and a prominent nose. She reminded me of my middle school librarian who could get you to shut up with one glance. “Would you like coffee, Ms…?”

“No thank you. It’s Hanson.” She settled in the red vinyl chair across from my dad’s beaten and scarred desk. “Georgette Hanson.”

My skin tingled when she said her name.

“My condolences on your father,” she said.

“Thank you.” Her words were simple, and expected, but her eyes held pain. Having lost her daughter, she clearly could relate.

“How did it happen?” she asked.

I swallowed again. With as many people as I’d had to tell, it should be getting easier. It wasn’t. “Stroke. Were you a former client of my father’s?”

She waved her hand. “Something like that.” She lifted the briefcase to her lap and popped the latch. Her eyes softened. “He was a fine man. You look just like him.”

My confident, broad-shouldered, Welshman father had been quite fit and handsome in his youth. Most of my adult life he’d carried an extra fifty pounds, but that never undermined his strong chin, wise blue eyes, and thick chestnut hair. I’d been blessed with my Dad’s eyes and hair and had my mom’s round chin. But since I’d ballooned a couple of sizes while pregnant with Mitz, I knew which version she thought I resembled. “What were you hoping he could do for you with regards to your daughter?”

“Find out why she’s dead.” Georgette shoved a paper dated a few weeks ago onto the desk and snapped the case lid closed.

A picture of a young woman with a warm smile, a button nose, and long wavy brunette hair sat below the fold on the front page under the headline: WOMAN STRUCK BY MAX TRAIN DIES.

I winced at the thought of her violent end. “I’m sorry. Such a pretty girl.”

“She was perfect.” Georgette pulled off her gloves, her eyes brimming. “The train destroyed that. Do you know what a train does to a hundred-pound woman?” Her voice trembled.

To avoid envisioning the impact, I replaced it with the smiling face of Mitz, my eight-year-old daughter. Which made it worse. If anything ever happened to her… How Georgette wasn’t a puddle on the Formica eluded me. I took a minute to read the story. According to the article, Brooke Hanson fell from the sidewalk into the path of an oncoming MAX train downtown at Ninth and Morrison Street. The police reported alcohol was a contributing factor. “They detained the sole witness who found her, Jay Nightingale. Why?” I set the paper down.

Georgette brushed her hair away from her forehead flashing nails chewed to the quick. “At first, the police thought he had something to do with her fall. He told them he’d seen my Brooke stumble down the sidewalk and teeter on the edge of the curb. Supposedly, he called out the train was coming and she didn’t hear him. He made no effort to get her away from those tracks. When the autopsy showed she’d been drinking, they wrote her death off as an accident, released Mr. Nightingale, and closed the case.”

Their decision couldn’t have been that cut and dry. “How much had she been drinking?”

“You sound like the police.” Georgette lifted her chin and met my gaze. There are many stages to grief. One of them anger, another denial. Georgette straddled both, something I knew plenty about. “Not sure…exactly. You’ll have to check the report.”

I scanned her face for the truth. “You don’t know or you’re afraid to tell me?”

She massaged the palm of her hand with her thumb. “The bartender at the Limbo said she’d had a few before he’d cut her off and asked her to leave. None of that matters because Nightingale’s lying. He had something to do with her fall. He may have even pushed her. At the very least, he knows more than he’s telling.”

My eyebrows raised. The police weren’t perfect, but they had solid procedures in death investigations. They would have explored that angle. “What are you basing that on?”

“My gut.”

A mother’s intuition while undeniable, alone didn’t prove foul play. “Did the MAX operator see Mr. Nightingale next to her at any point?”

“He didn’t even see her because the area wasn’t well lit.”

“Do you have his name?”

“Chris Foley.”

I jotted the information down. “What do the train’s cameras show?”

“There weren’t any. And no passenger statements because the train was done for the night. But Brooke shouldn’t have even been in the vicinity of that train.”

“Where is the Limbo located?”

“Ten blocks from where she was hit.”

A half mile, give or take. “Could she have been heading to catch the MAX to go home?”

“Brooke detested mass transit. The people who ride during the day scared her. She wouldn’t go there at night. Besides, she lived south of town. The train wouldn’t have taken her there.” She sighed. “I’m telling you, she wouldn’t be that far from the bar unless someone…” She closed her eyes.

Georgette talked in circles attempting to make sense of it all, but I had first-hand knowledge of drunk people doing things out of character. Given what she’d described, I could understand why the police had closed the matter. Even so, her devastation gripped my heart. And something had brought her out on this rainy Friday. “What are you holding back, Ms. Hanson? Why do you feel so strongly Mr. Nightingale was involved that you’d come to my dad for help?”

She stared at her hands as if they held the answers. “Brooke had changed in the last year. Become more distant. Not visiting. Missing our weekly calls.” The corner of her mouth turned upward in a sad smile. “We used to go for pie once a month. She loved pie. Apple pie. Cherry pie.” Her smile melted. “One day she was too busy and couldn’t get away. When she did, she didn’t look well. Stressed.”

“Did she say what was bothering her?”

“No. She shut me out, which she’d never done before. Now to have been killed by a train downtown when that Nightingale fellow was close enough to stop it from happening? He’s involved. I can feel it.” She straightened. “Until I know what happened that night, I won’t rest.” Georgette reached into her purse and produced an envelope grasped in her right hand. “Here’s three thousand for you to find the truth. Please say you’ll help me.”

Despite steady work from a few law firms around town, and an adequate divorce settlement, being a single mom often meant more month than money. Georgette was offering twice what I made in a good month of process serving and that would go a long way in taking care of my little girl. Not needing to ever rely on my ex would have been incentive alone, but there was more to it than that.

I’d recognized Georgette’s name the moment she’d said it. At the reading of my dad’s will, his lawyer had handed me a handwritten letter. It was a request from my dad that if a Georgette Hanson ever came to his door asking for help, I should assist and not ask questions why. It had meant nothing at the time. I’d figured it was due to his unending dedication to his clients.

Because Georgette had a connection to my dad in some capacity, that sealed my decision to at least try and help her. While I’d been directed not to ask questions, even he would have needed the obvious one answered before he took her money.

“You said she’d changed. Is there any chance she might have…I mean, was she depressed? Could she have stepped…”

Georgette cut me off. “Stop.” Her eyes grew wide with denial and the damn broke. Tears poured over her cheeks; her shoulders shook, buckling from the weight of her anguish. The anger and determination she’d used as a mask crumbled, and each passing second exposed another layer of her gut-wrenching grief.

I shifted at witnessing her raw emotion, bracing myself against my own around my father, and my thoughts on Mitz. Tears stung my eyes, unsure how to comfort my client when I struggled to do that for myself.

She muffled a wail with the back of her hand and finally drew in deep breaths until the sobs subsided.

I grabbed a box of Kleenex behind me. She already had a handful of tissue ready from her purse. I’d back off the notion of suicide—for the moment. The woman didn’t need any more distress than she’d already endured.

She sniffed hard a couple of times and sopped up her face with the tissue. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” I swiped under my eyes with my fingers, gaining control over my thoughts. “I’m not sure I’ll uncover anything new, but I will look for you.”

“Thank you.” She composed herself and stuffed the tissue back in her purse for the next inevitable breakdown.

I handed Georgette one of my dad’s old contracts, explaining my hourly rate, and a couple of authorization forms that might come in handy if requesting any case files was necessary.

She signed her name without bothering to read the fine print. She stood, the vinyl chair screeching against the hardwood floor startling Floyd. Her expression softened. “How old are you?”

“Thirty-two.”

“Brooke was a couple of years older, but pretty, like you and with the same flowing brown hair and kind eyes.” She sniffed. “I came to Roger because he could get to the heart of things. If you’re like him, you’ll find out what happened to my baby.”

I’d never be as good as my dad, but I did possess his mule-like stubbornness to get to the bottom of things. My ex could attest to that. “I’ll do what I can.”

She nodded. “Brooke was a good girl. She loved animals, ran every morning, and worked for the law firm Anderson, Hiefield & Price. She was the head accountant there.” Her face beamed with pride before her chin trembled again, but she held it together.

“It might help if I get a better sense of who she was.” I slid the legal pad to her. “If I could get her address, I’d like to start there.”

Georgette jotted the information down and pushed it back to me. She dug into her purse and produced the key. “I haven’t brought myself to go there yet.”

I gave her a sympathetic smile. “Are there family or friends I should start with?”

“Besides my husband, Chester, there’s just her sister, Hannah, who lives in Seattle. They weren’t close.” Georgette cleared her throat. “She never spoke to me about friends or boyfriends. Honestly, with her work schedule, she didn’t have time for any.”

With my own social life lacking, I related. “Do you have her cell? I’d like to check who she had on speed dial.”

She shook her head. “It wasn’t among her belongings.”

What thirty-something didn’t have their phone glued to them? Unless the impact of the train threw it. Another image I pushed away. I rounded my desk and walked her out of my office.

“Please keep in touch on how the investigation is going,” she said.

I assured her I would. She squeezed my arm to thank me as she left. With a twist of the deadbolt, I rested my shoulder against the door and closed my eyes. Mitz would get hugged a little closer tonight.

At my desk, Floyd trotted over and sat at my feet. He rested his chin on my lap while I added a few more notes. His sixth sense of when I needed him never faltered. I tucked the notes, along with a couple of divorce petitions into my bag to serve in between outings with Mitz.

It was early enough to get to Brooke’s place, about twenty minutes away, and to the grocery store so Mitz and I weren’t eating PB&Js for dinner. The faster I got started and found answers, the sooner Georgette could begin healing. If I was lucky, Brooke’s phone would be sitting on her nightstand waiting to be found.

Before getting up, I pulled the letter from my dad out of the top drawer and unfolded the paper. I traced the ruts in the desk we shared with my finger as I read his words. Georgette’s name was there in black and white. I had wanted to ask her more about how she knew my dad, but he’d been explicit in his request. He was a good man, albeit a tough man that I didn’t question. Nor had I ever felt the need to. It hadn’t been easy for him after my mom died, and we became the Two Musketeers. We may have run out of time for him to teach me everything he knew about being a P.I., but I’d learn as I went. I had no other choice. Helping Georgette was the last thing I could do for him. And I would.

“Ready to boogie, Floyd?” I flicked off the lights and Floyd padded behind me down the narrow hall to the backdoor.

We jogged to my yellow 1980 Triumph Spitfire, a gift from my dad when I graduated. “You know the routine, buddy.” Floyd stretched himself halfway into the car, and with a grunt, I lifted in his other half. He tripped over the manual gearshift and settled into the passenger seat as I slunk behind the wheel. The engine started right up, for a change.

Brooke was a couple of years older than me—far too young to die. Was Nightingale involved in her death? Did he know more than he was telling? Or was he just a helpless bystander who could only watch Brooke fall because she was drunk off her ass? I had a feeling I’d be returning the bulk of Georgette’s money after putting in some legwork. With a case the Portland police had already closed and an eyewitness who’d already been cleared, what other possibility was there?

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About the Author

Mary Keliikoa spent the first 18 years of her adult life working around lawyers. Combining her love of all things legal and books, she creates a twisting mystery where justice prevails. She has had a short story published in Woman’s World and is the author of the PI Kelly Pruett Mystery Series.

At home in Washington, she enjoys spending time with her family and her writing companions/fur-kids. When not at home, you can find Mary on a beach on the Big Island where she and her husband recharge. But even under the palm trees and blazing sun she’s plotting her next murder—novel that is.

Catch Up With Mary Keliikoa:
MaryKeliikoa.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

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Book Review: The Hidden Key by David E. Grogan

The Hidden Key
A Steve Stilwell Thriller #3
David E. Grogan
Camel Press, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-60381-580-2
Trade Paperback

Having never read David E. Grogan’s previous books, when I finished this one, I read reviews of Sapphire Pavilion and The Siegel Dispositions.  Having done so I discovered I am definitely in a minority when it comes to Grogan’s books.  Praise for those previous stories abounds but I just could not get on board (no pun intended).  I found both the story and the writing not even close to believable including his use of verbs that just did not match the emotions being communicated.

The Hidden Key begins with two men breaking into the home of a former Navy Seabee looking for an artifact, a clay tablet stolen from Iraq, that he advertised for sale on the internet.  Unbelievable violence ensues when the Seabee denies any knowledge of the artifact.  This is just the beginning of the body count.

About a week later Steve Stilwell, a lawyer in Virginia and a retired Navy JAG officer, meets a prospective client for dinner in London, having been contacted by the man and asked to join him in London as soon as possible.  The prospective client wants to hire Stilwell to probate his estate in the US.  As they are discussing the matter, two armed men enter the restaurant and the client ends up dead.  Stilwell later discovers that the client has wills in the US, India, and Italy but his job involves only the one in the US.  However, in addition to his will, the client has  left specific instructions as to how cash he left in a safe deposit box was to be distributed and where he was to be buried, specifying that his wife in India might not agree to either but he wanted his wishes honored.

Of course, the man’s wife needed to be informed of these instructions so Stilwell’s law partner, Casey, a former Army helicopter pilot, is dispatched to India to meet with her.  Despite a warm welcome from the woman, Casey ends up being attacked after their meeting.  Meanwhile, Stilwell has gone to Italy to meet with his client’s mistress where, perhaps you guessed it, more violence and murders ensue.  Meanwhile, the artifact that started this whole venture has been found, then lost, then found again.  It turns out that the artifact is a map to the Garden of Eden.  And, oh yes, the FBI, New Scotland Yard, and the Italian Carabinieri (because of a heist of the Shroud of Turin) are also involved.

Because I found this book beyond fantastical, I cannot recommend it but if you liked Grogan’s previous books you will probably like this one too.

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, April 2020.

Book Review: Four Dog’s Sake by Lia Farrell

four-dogs-sakeFour Dog’s Sake
A Mae December Mystery #4
Lia Farrell
Camel Press, December 2015
ISBN: 978-1-60381-246-7
Trade Paperback

Let’s see. Mae December is in a relationship with the sheriff of Rosedale, Tennessee, Ben Bradley. Tammy is having a baby, and she is married to Patrick. Dr. Lucy Ingram is thinking about inviting her boyfriend, Chief Detective Wayne Nichols to live with her, and Rick Willis and Meredith Flynn are about to get engaged. Then there’s Chester Willis and Brooke Piper . . . oh, wait a minute. Chester has been murdered and they think Brooke might’ve done it since she was short of money and stood to inherit a bundle from the Willis brother’s father. Whew! And those are just a few of the featured characters.

This is one book where a cast of characters section at the front might’ve been helpful. I don’t usually have a problem keeping track of who is who, but this story almost overwhelmed. Many characters seemed extraneous. Same for the dogs. The title seems odd to me since the dogs are just there to be cared for and serve no other real purpose.

That said, the mystery part of the plot is solid and law enforcement works hard to bring the right person to justice. The medical parts of the story seem spot on and well done. We can all hope our emergency room physician is as on-the-mark as Dr. Lucy Ingram who discovers Chester has even been murdered. In the end, it takes the entire medical community and a large group of friends to finally solve the mystery.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, July 2016.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder and Four Furlongs.

Book Reviews: Due for Discard by Sharon St. George and A Chorus of Innocents by P.F. Chisholm

Due for DiscardDue for Discard
An Aimee Machado Mystery #1
Sharon St. George
Camel Press, March 2015
ISBN: 978-1-60381-223-8
Trade Paperback

Author Sharon St. George is a good writer but she writes long and wordy. The novel has an interesting premise because the protagonist, Aimee Machado, has a relatively rare but useful degree in forensic librarian-ship. She works in the northern California town of Timbergate, her first job out of graduate school. Her job is to create a forensic research library for the hospital she works at. It is the hope of her mentor and the principal funder of the project that various area law enforcement agencies will use the developing library as a research resource.

It is clear from the beginning, in which readers get a sense of trouble, that the director of the project is largely absent because he has to deal with police in the matter of his wife being found murdered. So, Aimee is left to her own devices which includes nosing into the relationships and back stories of several characters, some of whom readers of crime fiction will instantly recognize.

The story moves at a leisurely pace, punctuated in the early going by Aimee’s occasional explosions of ire at her uncooperative brother who lives in the same town and knew the deceased woman. Various characters some with ulterior motives, others like the gossipy volunteer library worker, move through the story, sometimes contributing little to the plot. Most of the characters are logically drawn if not particularly inspiring. But more and more as the plot deepens, we learn of multiple connections, motives and desires until plot threads inspire visions of a plate of spaghetti.

This novel is coherent, logical, well-put together and fulfills any reader’s expectation of a cozy-type mystery. It has a rousing climax with a satisfactory conclusion and I expect this author will enjoy success with a series of additional stories featuring Aimee Machado. I hope, in the process, she examines her sense of pace and quantity.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

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A Chorus of InnocentsA Chorus of Innocents
A Sir Robert Carey Mystery #7
P.F. Chisolm
Poisoned Pen Press, August 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0460-9
Hardcover

This reviewer is not a big fan of historical crime novels. There are, however, a few authors working in the genre who have deep understanding of the requirements of the genre, and who honor the strictures of whatever time period they choose to write about. That always includes being keenly aware of the technical, scientific and cultural circumstances and limitations of the period. This author is one such.

This novel, one of a series, involves the death of a churchman—a minister of the “new” meaning protestant—religion. It is a fine example of all of the above plus this is a cracking good story. When the churchman, Jamie Burn, is murdered and his wife, Poppy, raped, these events in the far north country along the English-Scottish border in 1592, set in motion turbulence that will disturb the court of Elizabeth I. Sir Robert Carey, a powerful courtier, is ranging across the border region, trying to maintain order and keep away from the married woman he desperately loves.

The novel is really the story of a woman, the Lady Elizabeth Widdrington, who takes on herself responsibility for pursuing and identifying the men who killed Poppy’s husband and raped her. This in spite of her awareness that her abusive husband will object to her activities. Lady Widdrington is a marvelous character, carefully developed, fully formed, emotionally consistent, who through adroit force of will and a keen sense of propriety, is able to manipulate and bend to her will, a number of the rude and brawling men who populate her world.

Chisholm’s style is tight, forward pressing, and she tries successfully to use the language of the time. That can be difficult at times. One of the “rules” of crime novel writing is to limit the number of characters in order, presumably, to make things comfortable for readers. Well, perhaps with her tongue firmly planted in cheek, this author has given readers three pages of characters and included as well some horses and dogs that played roles in the story.

I recommend the series, the writing is strong and excellent, the characters are compelling and interesting and the plot of this novel is thoughtfully and properly conceived and resolved.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, October 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: A Secondhand Murder by Lesley A. Diehl—and a Giveaway

A Secondhand Murder Tour Banner

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Title: A Secondhand Murder
Author: Lesley A. Diehl
Publisher: Camel Press
Publication Date: September 15, 2013
Genre: Cozy Mystery

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A Secondhand MurderA Secondhand Murder
An Eve Appel Mystery
Lesley A. Diehl
Camel Press, September 2013
ISBN 978-1-60381-935-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Spunky and outspoken Eve Appel moves from Connecticut to rural Florida intent on starting a new life, free of drama, and more importantly, her soon-to-be ex-husband. The rural Florida town of Sabal Bay, situated only an hour from West Palm, proves to be the perfect spot for her consignment store. Thanks to the recent economic downturn, Florida’s society matrons need a place to discreetly sell their stuff and pick up expensive-looking bargains. But Eve’s life, and her business with it, is turned upside down when a wealthy customer is found stabbed to death in a fitting room. As accusations fly and business slows, Eve decides to take things into her own hands. With the help of an unlikely bunch of friends-including her estranged ex, her best friend, a handsome private eye, and a charming mafia don-she struggles to find answers and save lives. Through a maze of distorted half-truths, dramatic cover-ups, and unrequited passions, Eve learns just how far the wealthy will go to regain what they have lost. A Secondhand Murder is Book 1 of the Eve Appel Mysteries Series.

Every reader needs a little fluff now and then—at least, I do—and A Secondhand Murder fills that need quite nicely. The combination of a small shop and wealthy customers works well and I particularly appreciated that author Lesley A. Diehl gets the action up and running on the very first page with a body on the dressing room floor.

Despite the fluffy effect, the mystery here, multiple mysteries actually, are well-drawn and it’s not until nearly the end that all the pieces begin to come together and make some sense. Besides murder, shop owner Eve has to cope with an obnoxious ex-husband, a mobster with questionable motives, and a private eye who may not be the real thing but the crowd manages to pull off some kind of silly sleuthing without too much damage to themselves or others (if you don’t count the klutziness of Eve’s partner, Madeleine).

Speaking of characters, I found myself not liking Eve a whole lot, mainly because she’s a bit too impulsive and reckless for my taste, and borders on the amateur sleuth who always has to be rescued. I also was a little annoyed by Grandy for being too much like a stereotypical grandmother who wants to matchmake but is oh-so-cute on her own. Other characters, though, hit me just right, especially a pair of cowboys and a charming mobster.

All in all, cozy fans will enjoy a pleasant few hours with A Secondhand Murder and then look forward to the next Eve Appel adventure.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor. November 2013.

An Excerpt

It was still early so I strode back into the restaurant, indicated to the hostess I wanted a booth and ordered the breakfast buffet. Anger paired with disbelief gave me a hearty appetite. Returning to my booth after loading my plate with eggs, bacon, pancakes, pastries and a slice of toast, I noticed someone had joined me for breakfast. He was seated with his back to me as I approached the booth but I recognized the sun-streaked hair curling over his collar. My favorite PI. I almost dropped my plate.

“Hi.” I tried for nonchalant but sounded more like a hormone-addled teenager.

“Saw you come in. I guess you had an early morning chitchat with the local gendarmes.”

“To be continued this afternoon at the station.”

“Fingerprints?” He stirred a packet of sugar into his coffee.

“Nope.” The tingle in my tummy was more than simple hunger for food. I tried to satisfy it by stuffing a large forkful of pancake into my mouth. I nodded and swallowed. “Like anyone would be dumb enough to leave their prints.”

“Certainly, we know you’re smart.”

“I had no reason to kill Mrs. Sanders. That would be like killing the golden goose.”

“You didn’t like her very much, did you?”

I dropped my fork on the plate. “What do you mean? I hardly knew the woman.”

“So you say, but my sources indicate that’s not the whole story.” He stared at me. Last night I thought those azure eyes looked inviting. Now they looked more like ice. He smiled.

“You said you were investigating Mrs. Sanders. Sounds like you’re trying to nose into my affairs. Why?”

“Don’t get mad. I’m not accusing you of murder, you know.” He took a sip of coffee.

“I’m not mad.” I was a little miffed, peeved even, but not really mad. Okay, I was mad.

“Oh yes you are, and when you get angry, you stick your chin out and turn your head ever so slightly to the right. Your cheek twitches, probably from clenching your teeth. Did you know that?”

I had lost my appetite. I grabbed my purse and slid out of the booth. “I don’t recall inviting you to join me for breakfast. I just remembered I have an important appointment.”

“That would be …?” He also stood.

“That would be none of your business.”

I stalked out of the restaurant, then remembered as I approached my car that I had forgotten to pay my bill. Damn. Now I’d have to go back in there and face him again. I gritted my teeth, stuck out my chin and slammed through the door. He turned from the counter, credit card in hand.

“Don’t worry about it. I got it. Your treat next time.”

“There won’t be a next time.” I spun around and pushed open the door. By the time he reached his car, I was already starting my engine, wondering what the man knew about Mrs. Sanders and me.

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About the Author

Lesley A. DiehlLesley retired from her life as a professor of psychology and reclaimed her country roots by moving to a small cottage in the Butternut River Valley in upstate New York. In the winter she migrates to old Florida–cowboys, scrub palmetto, and open fields of grazing cattle, a place where spurs still jingle in the post office. Back north, she devotes her afternoons to writing and, when the sun sets, relaxing on the bank of her trout stream, sipping tea or a local microbrew.

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A Secondhand Murder by Lesley A. Diehl, leave
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the prize will be sent out at the end of the tour.

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