Book Review and Spotlight on Motts Cold Case Mysteries by Dahlia Donovan @DahliaDonovan @ttpubs @SDSXXTours

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Title: Pierced Peony
Series: Motts Cold Case Mystery Book 2
Author: Dahlia Donovan
Publication: Tangled Tree Publishing, May 2021
ISBN 978-1-922359-57-5
Trade Paperback
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From the publisher—
 
On a casual walk along the Cornish Coast, Pineapple “Motts” Mottley stumbles upon a body and a perilous new murder case in the second novel in the Motts Cold Case Mystery series.
 
As spring rolls into summer, Motts settles into her cottage. She’s enjoying a daily stroll when a body in the sea destroys her peace and quiet. It brings yet another mystery for her to solve.
 
How does a woman who vanished from Polperro three years prior wind up battered by waves?
 
Motts is drawn into the investigation despite her best attempts. She finds a family in turmoil and loads of suspects. With no easy answers, she tumbles further into chaos and ever closer to danger.
 
Can Motts find the killer before she’s the one put on ice?
 
Will she survive a bone-chilling brush with death? 

I have a definite fondness for British village mysteries and this one set in Cornwall drew me like a magnet. Add to the charming setting a protagonist who’s autistic AND not one to fall into a romance at the first sight of a handsome cop and, well, what more could I possibly want?

A compelling mystery full of misdirections and clues would make Pierced Peony just about ideal but I can’t go quite that far. Motts is a paper crafter and didn’t know the dead woman, who had been missing for several years, so her reasons for snooping are even thinner than in most cozies. Pacing is a bit uneven and the tale occasionally drags just a little.

On the other hand, it’s really nice to have an autistic character in a series again—the one I enjoyed in the past is E.J. Copperman’s Asperger’s Mysteries featuring a character on the spectrum—and that does explain some of Motts’ driven behavior. I love her pets, a hairless cat and a turtle who are certainly not your usual fluffy, ultracute critter companions and Motts herself is appealing in unexpected ways; also, the people around her are supportive and caring enough to give her a true community.

All in all, this is a delightful story that happens to have a few flaws and much gentle humor and I think any cozy fan will be happy to discover this series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, May 2021.

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Poisoned Primrose
Motts Cold Case Mystery Book 1
Author: Dahlia Donovan
Publication: Tangled Tree Publishing, July 2020
ISBN 978-1-922359-19-3
Trade Paperback
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“Wonderful mystery with a unique and special heroine!” – A Cozy Cup of Murder
 
Meet Motts and the quirky cast of characters in her world. Poisoned Primrose is a quintessential cosy British mystery and an all-round fun story to throw yourself into.
 
Autistic, asexual, and almost forty, Pineapple “Motts” Mottley flees London with her cat and turtle to a quaint cottage in Cornwall. She craves the peace of life in a small village. The dead body buried in her garden isn’t quite what she had in mind, though.
 
Unable to resist her curiosity, she falls directly into a mess of trouble and runs head-first into the attractive detective inspector, Teo Herceg. She tries to balance her business with the investigation, but as the killer focuses on her, staying alive becomes trickier than advanced origami.
 
Will Motts survive the onslaught of murderously bad luck?
 
Can she solve the mystery before it all spins out of control and off a cliff?
 
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Dahlia Donovan wrote her first romance series after a crazy dream about shifters and damsels in distress. She prefers irreverent humour and unconventional characters. An autistic and occasional hermit, her life wouldn’t be complete without her husband and her massive collection of books and video games.

Find the author:

Website * Facebook * Twitter * Instagram
* Bookbub * Amazon * Goodreads * Newsletter

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Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!
$5 Amazon
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Book Review: Miss Julia Stands Her Ground by Ann B. Ross @penguinusa

Miss Julia Stands her Ground
Miss Julia #7
Ann B. Ross
Penguin Books, April 2007
ISBN 978-0-143-03855-9
Trade Paperback

There’s something compelling about a protagonist that is unlikeable—you wouldn’t want them as a friend but you have to admit they can go places where more polite and meek heroines may hang back. Olive Kitteridge is one such character; the reader wonders why her husband stays with her and doesn’t fault her son for cutting ties with her. MC Beaton’s Agatha Raisin is another such character, a man-crazy busybody who insults her neighbors but is tolerated because she gives generously to village charities.

Miss Julia is a not-quite-genteel Southern widow. Her husband, Wesley Lloyd Springer, was a leading citizen and church member in their hometown, who died in the arms of his mistress, Hazel Marie. The young woman is a complete surprise to Miss Julia, who had been married for over forty years, as is Hazel Marie’s young son, who is the spitting image of Wesley Lloyd. The entire Springer estate was left to the boy, and Miss Julia had to fight to keep her house and an income.

How was Miss Julia to cope with the humiliation of her husband’s indiscretions coming to light? She invited Hazel Marie, a likable young woman with no fashion sense, and Little Lloyd to live with her. In this seventh book of the series, Hazel Marie’s ne’er do well uncle, Brother Vernon Puckett, announces that he is going to contest Little Lloyd’s inheritance, because Wesley Springer was not the boy’s father. Miss Julia is indignant, and plans to thwart Brother Vernon’s plans.

You wouldn’t want to have Miss Julia as a relative—she’d criticize your wardrobe, hairstyle, and manners. Ann B. Ross serves up a delightful story, one that promises an entertaining afternoon cozy read.

Reviewed by Susan Belsky, January 2021.

Book Review: Death in Tranquility by Sharon Linnéa @SharonLinnea @ArundelBooks @partnersincr1me

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Death In Tranquility

by Sharon Linnéa

February 1-28, 2021 Tour

Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Amazon // The Bookstore Plus
 
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Death in Tranquility
The Bartender’s Guide to Murder #1
Sharon Linnéa
Arundel Publishing, September 2020
ISBN 978-1-933608-15-0
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—


No one talks to the cops. Everyone talks to the bartender. And Avalon Nash is one hell of a bartender.

Avalon is on the run from her life in Los Angeles. Having a drink while waiting to change trains in the former Olympic town of Tranquility, New York, she discovers the freshly murdered bartender at MacTavish’s. A bartender herself, she’s offered the position with the warning he wasn’t the first MacTavish’s bartender to meet a violent end.

Avalon’s superpower is collecting people’s stories, and she’s soon embroiled in the lives of artists, politicians, ghost hunters and descendants of Old Hollywood.

Can Avalon outrun the ghosts of her past, catch the ghosts of Tranquility’s past and outsmart a murderer?

The first book in the Bartender’s Guide to Murder series offers chills, laughs, and 30 of the best drink recipes ever imbibed.

Bartenders are known to be good listeners, able to keep customers’ secret flaws and foibles to themselves, but they don’t typically find dead bodies. When Avalon Nash finds one that just happens to be the tender of the particular bar she drifted into, it’s natural that she would step into his position, being a bartender herself. Her new, if temporary, position puts her in the perfect spot to do a little investigating through what she hears, helping the police dontchaknow, and it soon becomes obvious to her that secrets abound in this former Olympic town, not least of which are her own.

Besides secrets, we find that there are a myriad of personality types in Tranquility, not to mention motives, and the twists and turns abound, making this a very entertaining way to while away a few hours in the doldrums of February.  Ms. Linnéa has a humorous, clever way of writing and she pulled me right into the story; I love this little town and its eccentric citizens and, oh, an added benefit is the plethora of enticing drink recipes I’m going to have to try 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2021.

An Excerpt from Death in Tranquility

Chapter 1

Death in the Afternoon
“Whenever you see the bartender, I’d like another drink,” I said, lifting my empty martini glass and tipping it to Marta, the waitress with teal hair. “Everyone wants another drink,” she said, “but Joseph’s missing. I can’t find him. Anywhere.” “How long has he been gone?” I asked. “About ten minutes. It’s not like him. Joseph would never just go off without telling me.” That’s when I should have done it. I should have put down forty bucks to cover my drink and my meal and left that magical, moody, dark-wood paneled Scottish bar and sauntered back across the street to the train station to continue on my way. If I had, everything would be different. Instead I nodded, grateful for a reason to stand up. A glance at my watch told me over half an hour remained until my connecting train chugged in across the street. I could do Marta a solid by finding the bartender and telling him drink orders were stacking up. Travelling from Los Angeles to New York City by rail, I had taken the northern route, which required me to change trains in the storied village of Tranquility, New York. Once detrained, the posted schedule had informed me should I decide to bolt and head north for Montreal, I could leave within the hour. The train heading south for New York City, however, would not be along until 4 p.m. Sometimes in life you think it’s about where you’re going, but it turns out to be about where you change trains. It was an April afternoon; the colors on the trees and bushes were still painting from the watery palate of spring. Here and there, forsythia unfurled in insistent bursts of golden glory. I needed a drink. Tranquility has been famous for a long time. Best known for hosting the Winter Olympics back in 19-whatever, it was an eclectic blend of small village, arts community, ski mecca, gigantic hotels and Olympic facilities. Certainly there was somewhere a person could get lunch. Perched on a hill across the street from the station sat a shiny, modern hotel of the upscale chain variety. Just down the road, father south, was a large, meandering, one-of-a-kind establishment called MacTavish’s Seaside Cottage. It looked nothing like a cottage, and, as we were inland, there were no seas. I doubted the existence of a MacTavish. I headed over at once. The place evoked a lost inn in Brigadoon. A square main building of a single story sent wings jutting off at various angles into the rolling hills beyond. Floor-to-ceiling windows made the lobby bright and airy. A full suit of armor stood guard over the check-in counter, while a sculpture of two downhill skiers whooshed under a skylight in the middle of the room. Behind the statue was the Breezy, a sleek restaurant overlooking Lake Serenity (Lake Tranquility was in the next town over, go figure). The restaurant’s outdoor deck was packed with tourists on this balmy day, eating and holding tight to their napkins, lest they be lost to the murky depths. Off to the right—huddled in the vast common area’s only dark corner—was a small door with a carved, hand-painted wooden sign which featured a large seagoing vessel plowing through tumultuous waves. That Ship Has Sailed, it read. A tavern name if I ever heard one. Beyond the heavy door, down a short dark-wood hallway, in a tall room lined with chestnut paneling, I paused to let my eyes adjust to the change in light, atmosphere, and, possibly, century. The bar was at a right angle as you entered, running the length of the wall. It was hand-carved and matched the back bar, which held 200 bottles, easily. A bartender’s dream, or her undoing. Two of the booths against the far wall were occupied, as were two of the center tables. I sat at the bar. Only one other person claimed a seat there during this low time between meal services. He was a tall gentleman with a square face, weathered skin, and dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. I felt his cold stare as I perused the menu trying to keep to myself. I finally gave up and stared back. “Flying Crow,” he said. “Mohawk Clan.” “Avalon,” I said. “Train changer.” I went back to my menu, surprised to find oysters were a featured dish. “Avalon?” he finally said. “That’s—” “An odd name,” I answered. “I know. Flying Crow? You’re in a Scottish pub.” “Ask him what Oswego means.” This was from the bartender, a lanky man with salt-and-pepper hair. “Oh, but place your order first.” “Are the oysters good?” I asked. “Oddly, yes. One of the best things on the menu. Us being seaside, and all.” “All right, then. Oysters it is. And a really dry vodka martini, olives.” “Pimento, jalapeño, or bleu cheese?” “Ooh, bleu cheese, please.” I turned to Flying Crow. “So what does Oswego mean?” “It means, ‘Nothing Here, Give It to the Crazy White Folks.’ Owego, on the other hand means, ‘Nothing Here Either.’” “How about Otego? And Otsego and Otisco?” His eyebrow raised. He was impressed by my knowledge of obscure town names in New York State. “They all mean, ‘We’re Just Messing with You Now.’” “Hey,” I said, raising my newly delivered martini. “Thanks for coming clean.” He raised his own glass of firewater in return. “Coming clean?” asked the bartender, and he chuckled, then dropped his voice. “If he’s coming clean, his name is Lesley.” “And you are?” I asked. He wasn’t wearing a name tag. “Joseph.” “Skål,” I said, raising my glass. “Glad I found That Ship Has Sailed.” “That’s too much of a mouthful,” he said, flipping over the menu. “Everyone calls it the Battened Hatch.” “But the Battened Hatch isn’t shorter. Still four syllables.” “Troublemaker,” muttered Lesley good-naturedly. “I warned you.” “Fewer words,” said Joseph with a smile that included crinkles by his eyes. “Fewer capital letters over which to trip.” As he spoke, the leaded door banged open and two men in chinos and shirtsleeves arrived, talking loudly to each other. The door swung again, just behind them, admitting a stream of ten more folks—both women and men, all clad in business casual. Some were more casual than others. One man with silvering hair actually wore a suit and tie; another, a white artist’s shirt, his blonde hair shoulder-length. The women’s garments, too, ran the gamut from tailored to flowing. One, of medium height, even wore a white blouse, navy blue skirt and jacket, finished with hose and pumps. And a priest’s collar. “Conventioneers?” I asked Joseph. Even as I asked, I knew it didn’t make sense. No specific corporate culture was in evidence. He laughed. “Nah. Conference people eat at the Blowy. Er, Breezy. Tranquility’s Chamber of Commerce meeting just let out.” His grey eyes danced. “They can never agree on anything, but their entertainment quotient is fairly high. And they drive each other to drink.” Flying Crow Lesley shook his head. Most of the new arrivals found tables in the center of the room. Seven of them scooted smaller tables together, others continued their conversations or arguments in pairs. “Marta!” Joseph called, leaning through a door in the back wall beside the bar. The curvy girl with the teal hair, nose and eyebrow rings and mega eye shadow clumped through. Her eyes widened when she saw the influx of patrons. Joseph slid the grilled oysters with fennel butter in front of me. “Want anything else before the rush?” He indicated the well-stocked back bar. “I’d better hold off. Just in case there’s a disaster and I end up having to drive the train.” He nodded knowingly. “Good luck with that.” I took out my phone, then re-pocketed it. I wanted a few more uncomplicated hours before re-entering the real world. Turning to my right, I found that Flying Crow had vanished. In his stead, several barstools down, sat a Scotsman in full regalia: kilt, Bonnie Prince Charlie jacket and a fly plaid. It was predominantly red with blue stripes. Wow. Mohawk clan members, Scotsmen, and women priests in pantyhose. This was quite a town. Joseph was looking at an order screen, and five drinks in different glasses were already lined up ready for Marta to deliver. My phone buzzed. I checked caller i.d. Fought with myself. Answered. Was grabbed by tentacles of the past. When I looked up, filled with emotions I didn’t care to have, I decided I did need another drink; forget driving the train. The line of waiting drink glasses was gone, as were Marta and Joseph. I checked the time. I’d been in Underland for fifteen minutes, twenty at the most. It was just past three. I had maybe forty-five minutes before I should move on. That was when Marta swung through the kitchen door, her head down to stave off the multiple calls from the center tables. She stood in front of me, punching information into the point of sale station, employing the NECTM—No Eye Contact Tactical Maneuver. That’s when she told me Joseph was missing. “Could he be in the restroom?” “I asked Arthur when he came out, but he said there was nobody else.” I nodded at Marta and started by going out through the front hall, to see if perhaps he’d met someone in the lobby. As I did a lap, I overheard a man at check-in ask, “Is it true the inn is haunted?” “Do you want it to be?” asked the clerk, nonplussed. But no sign of the bartender. I swung back through into the woodsy-smelling darkness of the Battened Hatch, shook my head at the troubled waitress, then walked to the circular window in the door. The industrial kitchen was white and well-lit, and as large as it was, I could see straight through the shared kitchen to the Breezy. No sign of Joseph. I turned my attention back to the bar. Beyond the bar, there was a hallway to the restrooms, and another wooden door that led outside. I looked back at Marta and nodded to the door. “It doesn’t go anywhere,” she said. “It’s only a little smoker’s deck.” I wondered if Joseph smoked, tobacco or otherwise. Certainly the arrival of most of a Chamber of Commerce would suggest it to me. I pushed on the wooden door. It seemed locked. I gave it one more try, and, though it didn’t open, it did budge a little bit. This time I went at it with my full shoulder. There was a thud, and it wedged open enough that I could slip through. It could hardly be called a deck. You couldn’t put a table—or even a lounge chair—out there. Especially with the body taking up so much of the space. It was Joseph. I knelt quickly and felt for a pulse at his neck, but it was clear he was inanimate. He was sitting up, although my pushing the door open had made him lean at an angle. I couldn’t tell if the look on his face was one of pain or surprise. There was some vomit beside him on the deck, and a rivulet down his chin. I felt embarrassed to be seeing him this way. Crap. He was always nice to me. Well, during the half an hour I’d known him, he had been nice to me. What was it with me discovering corpses? It was certainly a habit of which I had to break myself. Meanwhile, what to do? Should I call in the priest? But she was within a group, and it would certainly start a panic. Call 911? Yes, that would be good. That way they could decide to call the hospital or the police or both. My phone was back in my purse. And, you know what? I didn’t want the call to come from me. I was just passing through. I pulled the door back open and walked to Marta behind the bar. “Call 911,” I said softly. “I found Joseph.” It took the ambulance and the police five minutes to arrive. The paramedics went through first, then brought a gurney around outside so as to not freak out everyone in the hotel. They loaded Joseph on and sped off, in case there was anything to be done. I knew there wasn’t. The police, on the other hand, worked at securing the place which might become a crime scene. They blocked all the doorways and announced no one could leave. I was still behind the bar with Marta. She was shaking. “Give me another Scotch,” said the Scotsman seated there. I looked at the bottles and was pleasantly surprised by the selection. “I think this calls for Black Maple Hill,” I said, only mildly surprised at my reflexive tendency to upsell. The Hill was a rich pour but not the absolute priciest. He nodded. I poured. I’m not sure if it was Marta’s tears, or the fact we weren’t allowed to leave, but local bigwigs had realized something was amiss. “Excuse me,” the man in the suit came to the bar. “Someone said Joseph is dead.” “Yes,” I said. “He does seem to be.” Marta swung out of the kitchen, her eyeliner half down her face. “Art, these are your oysters,” she said to the man. He took them. “So,” he continued, and I wondered what meaningful words he’d have to utter. “You’re pouring drinks?” It took only a moment to realize that, were I the owner of this establishment, I’d find this a great opportunity. “Seems so,” I said. “What goes with oysters?” he asked. That was a no-brainer. I’d spied the green bottle of absinthe while having my own meal. I poured about three tablespoons into the glass. I then opened a bottle of Prosecco, poured it, and waited for the milky cloud to form. He took a sip, looked at me, and raised the glass. “If I want another of these, what do I ask for?” As he asked, I realized I’d dispensed one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite libations. “Death in the Afternoon,” I replied. He nodded and went back to his table. It was then I realized I wasn’t going to make my train. * *

Ernest Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon

Ingredients

• 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) absinthe • ½ to ¾ cup (4 to 6 ounces) cold Champagne or sparkling wine

Method

Hemmingway’s advice, circa 1935: “Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”

Chapter 2

No Known Address
Since I found the body, I got to talk to the lead investigator. He was in his mid-thirties, just under six feet, walnut skin, black hair cut short. He would have benefitted from a beard. He looked ripped; the king of ripped you got from taking out your frustrations in the gym. His demeanor was no-nonsense. “Investigator Spaulding,” he said, and he pulled out a notebook. “State Police.” “State Police? Isn’t that the same as State Troopers? Don’t you manage highways?” He stopped writing in his small, leather-covered notebook and looked up. “Common misconception. The local P.D. is small—only 9 on staff. When something big happens, they ask for assistance.” “They ask?” “It’s a dance.” I wasn’t a suspect (yet), so he didn’t need to write down my stats, but I could read upside down as he made notes. He asked my name, and began guessing at the rest. Nash, Avalon. Female. Caucasian. Blonde hair. 5’7 was his guess at my height. The next thing he wrote down could go seriously south, so I said, “healthy weight.” He looked up. “5’7” and at a healthy weight,” I supplied. “If I’m charged with something, we’ll get more specific.” “Age?” Did he really need to know all of this? “Twenties,” I said, waiting to see if he’d have the gall to object. He didn’t. “Best way to reach you?” I gave him my cell number. “Permanent address?” “I don’t have one.” He looked up. “I’m in the process of moving from California to New York. I’m only in town to change trains. I don’t have a New York address yet.” “A relative’s address?” I held up my phone. “This is your golden ticket,” I said. “If you want to reach me, this is it.” I saw him write ‘no known address.’ Yep, that pretty much summed it up. I glanced at my watch. Seven minutes until my train pulled into—and, soon after, departed from—the station. “Um, Detective,” I started. “Investigator Spaulding,” he corrected. “Investigator Spaulding, my train is about to arrive. I don’t know anything except what I’ve told you. I came in for a drink and helped Marta find the bartender, whom I hope died of a massive heart attack—well, of natural causes. You know what I mean.” At that point, his phone buzzed and he gave me a just-a-minute finger. He answered, listened for a while, and started to write. Then he hung up, flipped his notebook shut and said, “I can’t let you leave. He was murdered.” “Great,” I said, the tone somewhere between rueful and intrigued, as I headed back toward Marta, then I turned back toward Investigator Spaulding. “Can I continue to pour drinks?” He considered less than a moment. “By all means, serve truth serum to anyone who will imbibe.” Then he turned and walked toward the other officers. I went to stand with Marta behind the bar. In my imagination, I heard the train chug in across the street. Investigator Spaulding cleared his throat, and the room went silent. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “This is now a homicide investigation.” He had to pause as everyone shuffled or gasped, or cried out. “Please do not leave until we have taken your statement.” A woman in her fifties came and sat down in front of me at the bar. Her hair was in a no-fuss bob, she wore a free-flowing skirt with a linen jacket, both of which were in style twenty years ago, but they worked on her. “Got anything stronger than those Death things?” she asked. “I’m not big on Champagne.” “Sure.” I said. I sized her up. “Layers in a martini glass work for you?” “Honey, it’s the strength, not the glass.” She looked shaken and sad. I went for the rums and found Malibu Black, the stronger brother of the original. What a bartender Joseph must have been! I decided to try something new. Malibu Black, mango pineapple vodka, and pineapple juice. I mixed it over ice, shook, and poured. I sank some Chambord and topped it with Jägermeister Spice. “See if this does it,” I said. Her hand shook slightly as she held up the glass, appreciated the layers, and then took a sip. The jury was out. She took another. She nodded and smiled. It occurred to me that everyone in the room knew Joseph. They’d lost one of their own. Another woman in skinny white pants and a white shell with a fancy pink sports jacket came and sat next to her. They were about the same age, if I had to guess, but the new woman was thin as a rail, muscular, and with her blonde hair in a ponytail. I was guessing she colored her hair not from a darker shade, but to cover the white. The two women embraced. “Suzanne,” said the new arrival. “Gillian,” said no-fuss-bob Suzanne. Then, “Can’t believe it.” “I can’t, either,” replied hard-bodied Gillian. She had the remains of an Eastern European accent. They sat a respectful moment. “What are you drinking?” Suzanne looked at me. “No Known Address,” I said. “Okay,” Gillian said. “I’ll have one.” She then turned and I was dismissed to my task. “I can’t believe it. One of the only straight, available guys between forty and crotchety, and he’s gone!” said Suzanne. “There’s Mike,” Gillian said, tilting her head toward the state police investigator. “And I’m not sure Joseph was available.” “First, really? Maybe if he worked out. Second, you or I crook our little fingers and get a guy away from Sophie.” They both looked back, shooting daggers toward one of the three women in the center wall booth. I knew which must be Sophie, as one of them was crying copiously while the other two petted her solicitously. “And do we have a suspect?” asked pink jacket Gillian. This time, they looked at a younger woman who sat at a table with two newly arrived Chamber men. She was gorgeous—skin the color of chai latte and hair as dark as a sky at new moon. She was staring off into space. I almost said, “You know I can hear you.” But maids, taxi drivers, and bartenders… well, we’re invisible, which is partly how we get the good gossip. They stopped talking abruptly as two men approached. “Can we get some food?” asked the first. He was in a polo and navy blue slacks. I heard snuffling and saw that Marta was in the shadows, leaning back against the wall. “Hey,” I said, “would you ask the chef if we can continue to order food?” She nodded and swung through the kitchen door. Arthur, the man in the suit who had ordered earlier, accompanied the newcomer in the polo. Arthur addressed his companion in an audible hiss. “I’m telling you… we can’t let word of this get out. Tranquility has to be considered a safe haven. For everyone. For…the festival folks. It’s part of what lures them here. Change of pace.” “How do we not let the word get out? It’s a matter of record! And everyone in town knows about it—or will, within minutes.” From the furious pace of thumbs texting throughout the room, it was clear he was correct. “I mean, don’t print this as front-page news.” “It is front page news, Art. And, the film festival folks are already committed. They’ve submitted their films. They’ll come.” Marta returned with a positive nod. I slapped down two menus. “Marta will be out to take your order,” I said. As they turned, I added. “And if it’s a film festival, you don’t need to worry. Film people eat news like this for breakfast.” Arthur looked at me in surprise, but gave a raised-eyebrows look that inferred I could have a point. They left with the menus and I turned back to Marta, trying to help get her mind on something other than her boss’s death. “Can you help me add these drinks to people’s tabs?” I nodded toward the POS. For the record, I hate point of sale machines. Each one hates humans in its own unique way. I pointed at people and she pulled up their tabs and showed me how to input the drinks I’d served. I only had the Scotsman’s tab left undone when the man in the artist’s shirt stopped right before me. He was likely late 40s and had a face that was long but not unattractive. His shoulders were unusually broad, and he exuded self-confidence and a self-trained impishness. His shirt had one too many buttons left undone. “Okay,” he said, “I wasn’t going to drink, but Joe…” “You weren’t going to drink because it’s late afternoon, or because you’ve been sober for seven months?” I had no interest in tipping someone off the wagon. He laughed. “I haven’t been drinking because this isn’t my favorite crowd,” he said. “And I don’t usually drink. But murder seems an excuse, if there ever was one.” He extended his hand. “Michael Michel,” he said, and smiled, waggling his eyebrows as if this should mean something to me. I took his hand and shook. It was apparent I didn’t recognize him. “The Painter Who Brings You Home,” he said, and the trademark practically bled from the words. “Right,” I said, trying to sound impressed. “Nice to meet you. I’m Avalon. What’ll ya have?” “Vodka tonic lime.” “Care which vodka?” He shook his head while saying, “Whatever you’ve got. Grey Goose.” Ah, a fellow who pretended not to drink, who knew exactly what he wanted. I poured and went for the garnish tray. The limes were gone. I looked at the back bar and found lemons and oranges. No limes, though clearly there had been some. I walked along the front bar and found, below patron eye level, a small cutting board with a lime on it. The lime was half-cut, some of them in rounds, a few in quarters. Some juice was dripping down onto the floor. I reached for a wedge, and then I stopped short. Joseph never would have left this on purpose. It was obviously what he’d been doing when he was interrupted by death—or someone who led him to his death. Or by symptoms that eventually spelled death. I leaned down and sniffed. It was lime-y. But there was something else, also. I backed away. I walked over to Marta and said, quietly, “Don’t let anyone near that end of the bar.” Then I walked over to Investigator Spaulding, where he sat at a booth interviewing someone. “Investigator?” I said. “Sorry to interrupt, but this is important.” He looked at me, squinting, then seemed surprised, since I’d made such a point of being Ms. Just-Passing-Through. He stood up and stepped away from the booth. “I believe I’ve found the murder weapon,” I said. As we walked together, I realized that the door to the smoker’s porch sat open. It was crawling with half a dozen or so more crime scene people. Together we walked to the limes. I said, “Don’t touch them. If this is what Joseph was doing when he died, if they are poisoned, my guess is that the poison can be absorbed through the skin.” Investigator Spaulding looked at me like, Of course I knew that, but he stepped back. As another officer and two crime scene investigators came over, I backed away, removing myself as far as possible from the action. I returned to the Artist Shirt. “I think today we’re going with a lemon and a cherry,” I said. I smelled them before putting them in the drink. It struck me then that perhaps Joseph hadn’t been the intended target. Maybe there was someone who consistently ordered a drink garnished with lime, and the murderer had injected the poison into the lime, not realizing it could be absorbed as well as ingested. Like, for instance, the man before me, Mr. Vodka Tonic Lime. Still, this was a pretty non-specific way of poison delivery. The limes could have been served to half a dozen people before anyone realized they were toxic. Who would do something like that? The police were letting people go once they had been interviewed. I asked Investigator Spaulding if I could go. He nodded, adding, “Please stay in town until tomorrow morning, in case we have any further questions.” As if I had a choice. All the trains had gone, except the 11 p.m. to Montreal. The bar had been sealed off with crime-scene tape, a welcome relief as I didn’t relish closing a dead man’s station on the night of his murder. Why would I even think that? I didn’t work here. But my need to leave a bar in pristine condition ran down to bone and marrow. As I headed for my bag, which I’d left on my original stool, I saw I wouldn’t even be allowed to access the POS machine. The only patron whose drink I hadn’t input was the man in the kilt. I looked around the emptying room to find he’d moved to a pub table over to the side. “Sorry, sir,” I said. “I wasn’t able to enter your drinks into the machine. I guess you’re on the honor system to pay up another day.” He gave a small smile. “Lass,” he said, “I’m Glenn MacTavish. Owner of this place. Seems I’m out a bartender and will be needing another. You have any interest?” he asked. I stopped and stared. “There’s really a MacTavish?” I asked. “Aye, and you’re looking at him.” “But… you don’t know anything about me.” “You keep a clear head and you know what you’re doin’. That’s all I really need to know. Besides, you don’t know anything about me, either.” “I, well—thank you for the offer. It’s a beautiful bar. Can I think on it overnight? I’ve been told not to leave town.” “Aye,” he said. “You can tell me in the mornin’ if you might be stayin.’ And while you’re decidin’, I could pay you for your services tonight with a room here at the hotel.” That seemed fair. The Hotel Tonight app was offering me a room at a local chain. Staying at MacTavish’s Seaside Cottage for free seemed infinitely more attractive. “All right,” I said. “I should probably let you know they’re expecting me in New York City.” “All right,” he said. “I should probably let you know Joseph isn’t the first bartender to work here who’s been murdered.” * *

No Known Address

Ingredients

• ½ oz. Malibu black • 2 dashes Chambord • ½ oz. mango pineapple vodka • 2 dashes Jägermeister Spice • 1 oz. pineapple juice

Method

Shake pineapple vodka, Malibu Black and pineapple juice over ice and strain evenly into martini glasses. Sink a dash of Chambord into each flute by running it down the side of the glass. Layer a dash of Jägermeister Spice in each glass. *** Excerpt from Death in Tranquility by Sharon Linnéa. Copyright 2020 by Sharon Linnéa. Reproduced with permission from Sharon Linnéa. All rights reserved.

 

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About the Author

 

Sharon Linnéa wrote the bestselling Eden Series (Chasing Eden, Beyond Eden, Treasure of Eden and Plagues of Eden) with B.K. Sherer, as well as the standalone These Violent Delights, a movie murder series. She enjoyed working with Axel Avian on Colt Shore: Domino 29, a middle-grade spy thriller. She is also the author of Princess Ka’iulani: Hope of a Nation, Heart of a People about the last crown princess of Hawaii which won the prestigious Carter Woodson Award, and Raoul Wallenberg: the Man Who Stopped Death. She was a staff writer for five national magazines, a book editor at three publishers, and a celebrity ghost. She lives outside New York City with her family. In Orange County, she teaches The Book Inside You workshops with Thomas Mattingly.

Catch Up With Sharon On: www.SharonLinnea.com BartendersGuidetoMurder.com Goodreads BookBub Instagram Twitter Facebook

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Follow the tour here.

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Giveaway

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual
Book Tours for Sharon Linnéa. There will be SIX (6) winners: ONE (1)
winner will receive one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card and FIVE (5) winners
will each receive one (1) copy of Death In Tranquility by Sharon Linnéa.
(These five (5) winners will have their choice of eBook or Print
edition however print editions will only be shipped to U.S. addresses).
The giveaway begins on February 1, 2021 and runs through
March 2, 2021. Void where prohibited.

Enter here.

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Book Review: Catch Me If Yukon by Maddy Hunter

Catch Me If Yukon
A Passport to Peril Mystery #12
Maddy Hunter
Midnight Ink, December 2018
ISBN 978-0-7387-5397-3
Trade paperback

Tour guide Emily Andrew-Ciceli might as well be herding cats when she leads a group of senior citizens from Iowa on a cruise along the Alaskan coast. The ladies hiss and spit, while the men growl and wander like tomcats. All are somewhat lax about keeping to a schedule. Then one turns up dead when she goes off on her own after a spat with one of the group and events become more serious. At first her death seems a tragic accident, but then there’s talk of murder.

Meanwhile, the group watches a glacier calf, goes whale watching and ziplining, but it is the photo of sasquatch while shooting photos out a bus window that gets everyone in an uproar. As media people follow them around after the picture is posted online, it’s hard for either Emily or the police to catch a killer.

The murder mystery isn’t really the point of this story. It’s a group of sometimes charming, sometimes aggravating seniors who drive the narrative. Amusing dialogue and characterizations, along with the well-depicted scenery of Alaska make the read terrific fun.

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, November 2020.
http://www.ckcrigger.com
Author of The Woman Who Built A Bridge (Spur Award Winner), Yester’s Ride,
Hometown Burning and Six Dancing Damsels: A China Bohannon Novel

Book Review: Little Bookshop of Murder by Maggie Blackburn @molliecoxbryan @crookedlanebks

Little Bookshop of Murder
A Beach Reads Mystery #1
Maggie Blackburn
Crooked Lane, September 2020
ISBN 978-1-64385-438-0
Hardcover

As the story begins Summer Merriweather is on her way back to her hometown of  Brigid’s Island, NC from England where, during her summer break she was trying to write a paper for publication in the hope that she could save her job as a professor of Shakespearean literature at a Virginia college.  Her job is in jeopardy because she hasn’t published enough, and she fails too many students.  But the thing that really sealed her possible fate was an embarrassing video of her that went viral.  Summer is returning to her hometown because she learned of her mother’s death – the mother from whom she has been estranged for many years.

Upon her return Summer learns from her aunt Agatha, her mother’s sister, that the coroner ruled her mother’s death a heart attack which Summer refuses to believe because her mother, Hildy, was very healthy and never had heart problems.  Back on Brigid’s Island Summer is immediately surrounded by her mother’s friends who help out in the store, bring huge amounts of food, and with whom Hildy was in a book club for many years.  However, the police chief firmly believes that Summer’s mother did suffer a heart attack and, since he dislikes Summer for personal reasons, is not inclined to take her seriously and investigate.

So, with the help of her cousin Piper, Piper’s daughter Mia, and Summer’s aunt, Agatha, Summer begins investigating.  What she learns makes her even more suspicious that her mother’s death was not from natural causes:  her mother had no symptoms before the apparent heart attack, she had recently seen her doctor for a routine check-up, she went to her yoga class the morning of her death, then to work at the bookstore, and then, according to one of the other book club members who was working with her at the time, dropped to the floor and was dead.

Throughout her investigation there is a side story about Summer reading a book her mother was reading just prior to her death – a romance novel – just the kind of book Summer has always hated but to which she feels drawn.

I enjoyed this book, not because the mystery was tricky, and the outcome was difficult to figure out because neither is true but because I really liked the relationships in Summer’s family and with the women in the book club.  The book was supposed to come out in July 2020 (was delayed to September because of COVID) and I would have said it was a great beach read (a play on the bookstore’s name!) but it’s winter here in New England and we just got a foot of snow so maybe for some of you it’s beach weather but not here!

Reviewed by Melinda Drew, December 2020.

Book Review: The Secret of Dunhaven Castle by Nellie H. Steele @SDSXXTours

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The Secret of Dunhaven Castle
Cate Kensie Mysteries Book 1
by Nellie H. Steele
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Amazon
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The Secret of Dunhaven Castle
A Cate Kensie Mystery Book 1
Nellie H. Steele
A Novel Idea Publishing, November 2019
ISBN 978-1951582029
Trade Paperback
How in the world could she now own a castle?
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Shy, introverted Dr. Cate Kensie never imagined that she would inherit a beautiful, and oddly quirky, castle nestled in the picturesque Scottish Highlands. Truthfully, she was sure that she didn’t have any family left after her parents died in a car accident several years before, but then she had gotten the phone call, and her entire world had turned upside down.
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That was when she discovered that she had family in Scotland, and her distant family member, Gertrude MacKenzie, had passed away, leaving her Dunhaven Castle and a golden timepiece with the mysterious phone call: ALWAYS KEEP AN EYE ON YOUR TIME.
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Soon after she leaves the only life she’s ever known in the US with her four-legged best friend, the adorable Riley, she quickly finds that owning this castle is not the fairytale she expected. Mysterious events occur that leave Cate wondering if her new home is haunted or if she’s losing her mind.
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Will Cate be able to unravel the mysteries of Dunhaven Castle before it’s too late? Or will the secrets be too much for Cate to handle?
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Find out if Cate can uncover the secrets her new home holds in The Secret of Dunhaven Castle!
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What little girl doesn’t dream of inheriting a castle and becoming nobility…and, for many, that dream never entirely dies even when we recognize the extreme unlikelihood such a thing will ever happen. So, it’s not surprising that Cate finds her inheritance from an unknown countess is hard to believe but, considering her floundering professorial career and her lack of ties in this country, moving to Scotland definitely has a certain appeal.
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Ms. Steele borrows elements from other novels and puts them to good use, things such as the will’s requirement that she must live in the castle in order to inherit and the atmosphere that goes along with an ancient building. Cate is confronted by a number of secrets, not the least of which is why the family name changed at some point and how the branches of the family became estranged. Her background as a history professor is helpful but even that isn’t much use when it comes to figuring out the mysteries of a very unusual watch.
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With attractive characters and an interesting plot, this is a nice beginning to an appealing series and, while it didn’t tax my brain too much, I enjoyed the journey with Cate and the adorable Riley and will look forward to the next books.
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Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2020.
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Murder at Dunhaven Castle
Cate Kensie Mysteries Book 2
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If you could go back in time and clear your family’s name, would you?
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Dr. Cate Kensie, now known as Lady Catherine Kensie, the mistress of Dunhaven Castle, still can’t believe her life. Somehow, moved to Scotland, inherited a castle that’s more than meets the eye, and is the proud–and sometimes reluctant– owner of an amazing family heirloom. But there’s a secret Cate must protect about her new life, a secret that no one but Jack Reid, the estate manager, knows of.
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As Cate learns more about her new home, she discovers that in 1856 there was a murder at Dunhaven and non-other than her own ancestor, Randolph MacKenzie, was accused and convicted of the crime. However, the more she learns about the murder at Dunhaven, the more confusing things become. All of the evidence is there, but the answers still don’t add up.
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Will Cate have the courage to dive into a centuries-old murder to clear her family’s name? Or will she find out the hard way that sometimes it’s best to leave the past in the past where it can’t hurt you?
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Find out in the nail-biting second installment of the Cate Kensie Mysteries series, Murder at Dunhaven Castle!
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Holiday Heist at Dunhaven Castle
Cate Kensie Mysteries Book 3
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Cate knew she had seen those jewels before.
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As her eyes scanned the newspaper article from 1925, she is shocked to read about the theft of two priceless necklaces from her family’s home. When Cate recognizes one of the stolen necklaces from when she traveled back in time to the year 1856 to solve a murder mystery, Cate knows there’s only one thing left for her to do. Despite the hectic holiday season approaching, complete with two grand holiday events, Cate must travel to 1925 and unravel the mystery surrounding the jewelry theft.
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However, things take an unexpected turn when she arrives. As Cate discovers more unanswered questions, she starts to wonder if there’s a piece to the puzzle she has yet to uncover.
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While Cate and estate manager, Jack, try to unravel the puzzle in the past, another mystery brews in the present for Cate. Strange and eerie nightmares centered around a bookcase in Dunhaven Castle’s library disrupt Cate’s sleep, rattling her mind even during her waking hours. She wonders if these are connected to the jewelry theft or if something darker lurks in Dunhaven’s halls.
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Can Cate solve the mysterious theft of her family’s jewelry? Will the bookcase hold the secrets to the past? If it does, will Cate be able to decipher the clues on its shelves? Or is there something more sinister at work in Dunhaven Castle?
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Find out if Cate has what it takes to solve the newest mysteries at Dunhaven Castle in Holiday Heist at Dunhaven Castle, book three of the riveting cozy mystery series Cate Kensie Mysteries.
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About the Author

Nellie H. Steele lives in the South Hills of Pittsburgh with her family and her many fur-babies. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys teaching Statistics at a local university or watching her dogs and cats play in the yard.
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Nellie is the author of the Cate Kensie Mystery Series, a cozy mystery series following the adventures of Dr. Catherine Kensie, a history professor turned Scottish Countess, and her beloved dog, Riley, as they navigate their new lives in their quirky Scottish highlands castle, solving mysteries along the way! She is the creator of the Shadow Slayers series, a suspenseful series with a supernatural twist! Follow the Shadow Slayers through time as they fight to banish darkness from the world. Nellie also writes an adventure series, Maggie Edwards Adventures. Follow Maggie Edwards as she travels the world solving mysteries and finding unique treasures!
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Giveaway

Follow the tour HERE for special content and a giveaway!

$25 Amazon

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Book Review: A Christmas Carol Murder by Heather Redmond @heatherhiestand @KensingtonBooks @partnersincr1me

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A Christmas Carol Murder

by Heather Redmond

on Tour November 1 – December 31, 2020

Synopsis:

The latest novel from Heather Redmond’s acclaimed mystery series finds young Charles Dickens suspecting a miser of pushing his partner out a window, but his fiancée Kate Hogarth takes a more charitable view of the old man’s innocence …

London, December 1835: Charles and Kate are out with friends and family for a chilly night of caroling and good cheer. But their blood truly runs cold when their singing is interrupted by a body plummeting from an upper window of a house. They soon learn the dead man at their feet, his neck strangely wrapped in chains, is Jacob Harley, the business partner of the resident of the house, an unpleasant codger who owns a counting house, one Emmanuel Screws.

Ever the journalist, Charles dedicates himself to discovering who’s behind the diabolical defenestration. But before he can investigate further, Harley’s corpse is stolen. Following that, Charles is visited in his quarters by what appears to be Harley’s ghost—or is it merely Charles’s overwrought imagination? He continues to suspect Emmanuel, the same penurious penny pincher who denied his father a loan years ago, but Kate insists the old man is too weak to heave a body out a window. Their mutual affection and admiration can accommodate a difference of opinion, but matters are complicated by the unexpected arrival of an infant orphan. Charles must find the child a home while solving a murder, to ensure that the next one in chains is the guilty party . . .

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Mystery Published by: Kensington Publishing Publication Date: September 29th 2020 Number of Pages: 320 ISBN: 1496717171 (ISBN13: 9781496717177) Series: A Dickens of a Crime #3 || A Stand Alone Mystery Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | iBooks | Goodreads

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A Christmas Carol Murder
A Dickens of a Crime #3
Heather Redmond
Kensington Books, September 2020
ISBN 978-1-4967-1717-7
Hardcover

When Charles and Kate are out with friends on a cold Victorian winter’s night and a body literally falls at their feet, we’re immediately off on the hunt for a killer and a bit of a jolly romp. Ms. Redmond didn’t exactly create the protagonist since Charles Dickens was a real person but it’s always fun when an author creates a story around such a character. In this case, it’s even more fun because of the way a mystery has been intertwined with the Dickens tale, A Christmas Carol, and I really appreciated the punnish names such as Emmanuel Screws and Jacob Harley; in fact, they put me on high alert looking for other takes on that classic story.

As a journalist, Dickens has a natural bent for looking for the truth but Kate is just as involved, having her own ideas about what might have really happened to Jacob, and the pair find themselves in the midst of more than just a murder investigation. Plenty of unexpected twists kept me interested and I’m now a devoted fan not only of the characters but also of the very clever plot. I’m definitely going to have to get the first two books in this charming series.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2020.

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Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Hatfield, Hertfordshire, England, December 1, 1835 They hadn’t found the body yet. Old Sal was surely dead. Feathers had caught on candles, igniting the blaze. Maybe a yipping dog had some part in the fiery disaster. The marchioness’s advanced age had surely contributed to the fatal misadventure. The marquess, her son, had nearly killed himself in a futile attempt to rescue her. Charles Dickens’s cough forced him to set down his pen. Ink dribbled from it, obscuring his last few words. He found it hard to stay seated, so he pushed his hands through his unruly dark hair, as if pressing on his sooty scalp would keep him on the pub bench. Only three hours of sleep before being dragged from his bed to make the twenty-three-mile journey from his rooms at Furnival’s Inn in London that morning. Nervous energy alone kept his pen moving. He rubbed his eyes, gritty with grime and fumes from the fire, both the massive one that had destroyed the still-smoking ruins of Hatfield House’s west wing, and the much smaller one here in the taproom at Eight Bells Pub. Some light came in from out of doors, courtesy of a quarter-full moon, but the windows were small. He called for a candle and kept working. Putting the messy slip of paper aside, he dipped his pen in his inkwell. Starting again, he recalled the devastation of the scene, the remains of once noble apartments now reduced to rubble and ash. He filled one slip after another, describing the scene, the architecture, the theories. When he ran out of words, he let his memories of massive oaken Tudor beams, half-burned; heaps of bricks; lumps of metal; buckets of water; black-faced people; and unending, catch-in- your-throat soot—all that remained of forty-five rooms of storied, aristocratic things—fade away. The ringing of St. Ethelreda’s venerable church bells returned him to the moment. Had it gone eight p.m. already? Hooves and the wheels of a cart sounded in the narrow street outside. A couple of men passed by, discussing the fire. The door of the pub opened and closed,allowing the flash from a lantern to illuminate the dark room. Charles noted the attempts to make the room festive. Greenery had been tacked to the blackened beams and draped around the mantelpiece. He thought he saw mistletoe mischievously strung up in that recess to the left of the great fireplace. Next to it, a man slumped in a chair. He wore a tired, stained old surtout and plaid trousers with a mended tear in the knee. Next to him waited an empty stool, ready for an adoring wife or small child to sit there. Charles stacked his completed slips of paper on the weathered table and took a fresh one from his pile, the pathos of that empty seat tugging at him. He began to write something new, imagining that last year at this time, a sweet little girl sat on the stool, looking up at the old, beaten man. How different his demeanor would have been then! Charles drew a line between his musings and the lower blank part of the page. His pen flew again, as he made the note. Add a bit of melancholy to my Christmas festivities sketch. Unbidden, the serving maid delivered another glass of hot rum and water. The maid, maybe fourteen, with wide, apple- colored cheeks and a weak chin, gave him a sideways glance full of suspicion. He grinned at her and pointed to his face. “Soot from the fire. I’m sending a report back to London.” His hand brushed against his shoulder, puffing soot from his black tailcoat into his eyes. She pressed her lips together and marched away, her little body taut with indignation. Well, she didn’t understand he had to send his report by the next mail coach. Not much time for sentiment or bathing just yet. By the time he finished his notes, the drinks hadn’t done their job of settling his cough. He knew it would worsen if he lay down so he opened his writing desk to pull out a piece of notepaper. Dearest Fanny, he wrote to his sister. Where to begin? I wrote to my betrothed this morning so I thought I should send my news to someone else. Was ever a man so busy? I am editing my upcoming book. Did I tell you it will be called Sketches by Boz? I have to turn in the revisions for volumes one and two by the end of the year, in advance of the first volume releasing February eighth. I am also working on an operetta, thanks to that conversation with your friend John Hullah, in my head, at least. I hope to actually commence writing it as soon as my revisions are done. I remember all the happy Christmas memories of our earliest childhood, the games and songs and ghost stories when we lived in Portsmouth, and hope to re-create them in my own sweet home next year. How merry it will be to share Christmas with the Hogarths! To think that you, Leticia, and I will all be settled soon with our life’s companions. Soon we will know the sounds of happy children at our hearths and celebrate all the joys that the season should contain in our private chambers. He set down his pen without signing the letter. It might be that he would have more to add before returning to London. He had no idea how long it would be before they recovered the Marchioness of Salisbury’s body, if indeed, anything was left. Restacking his papers, he considered the question of her jewels. Had they burned? At least the priceless volumes in the library all had survived, despite the walls being damaged. His brain kept churning, so he pulled out his copy of Sketches by Boz. He would edit for a while before retiring to his room at the Salisbury Arms. No time for sleep when work had to be done. Pounding on the chamber door woke him. Daylight scarcely streamed around the tattered edges of the inn’s curtain. Charles coughed. He still tasted acrid soot at the back of his throat. Indeed, it coated his tongue. The pounding came again as he scratched his unshaven chin. Had the Morning Chronicle sent someone after him? He’d put his first dispatch from the fire on the mail coach. Pulling his frock coat over his stained shirt, he hopped across the floor while he tugged on his dirty trousers. Soot puffed into the air with each bounce. “Coming, coming,” he called. The hinges squeaked horribly when he opened the door. On the other side stood a white-capped maid. She wore a dark cloak over her dress. A bundle nestled between her joined arms. Had she been kicking the door? “Can I help you?” Charles asked, politely enough for the hour. To his right, his boots were gone. He had left them to be polished. The girl lifted her bundle. The lump of clothes moved. He frowned, then leaned over the lump. A plump face topped by a thatch of black hair stared back. A baby. Was she hoping for alms? “What’s your name, girl?” “Madge, sir. Madge Porter.” “Well, Madge Porter, I can spare you a few coins for the babe if you’ll wait for a moment. Having hard times?” She stared hard at him. He realized the cloaked figure was the tiny serving maid from the Eight Bells. “He’s my sister’s child.” “I see. Is she at work?” He laugh-choked. “She’s not in here with me, if that’s what you’re thinking.” Her mouth hung open for a moment. “No, sir, I don’t think that.” “What, then?” He glanced around for his overcoat, which had a few coins in a pocket. “What is the babe’s name?” “Timothy, sir.” She tightened her weak chin until her pale skin folded in on itself. “Timothy Dickens?” she warbled. “Dickens?” He took another glance at the babe. Cherry red, pursed lips, and a squashed button of a nose. He didn’t see any resemblance to his relatives. His voice sharpened. “Goodness, Madge, what a coincidence.” Her voice strengthened. “I don’t think so, sir.” He frowned. The serving maid did not seem to understand his sarcasm. “I’ve never been to Hatfield before. My family is from Portsmouth. I don’t know if your Timothy Dickens is a distant relative of mine or not. Who is his father?” “She died in the fire.” He tilted his head at the non sequitur. “Who?” “My sister. She died in the fire. She was in service to old Sarey.” Charles coughed, holding the doorjamb to keep himself upright. This was fresh news. “How tragic. I didn’t hear that a maid died.” “They haven’t found the bodies.” “That I know. I’m reporting on the fire, but then, I told you that. Thank you for the information. I’ll pay you for it if you wait a moment for me to find my purse.” She thrust the bundle toward him. “Timothy is yer son, sir. You need to take him.” Charles took a step back, waving his hands. “No he isn’t.” “He’s four months old. It would have been last year, around All Hallow’s Eve. Do you remember the bonfire? She’s prettier than me, my Lizzie. Her hair is lighter, not like yers or mine.” “Truly, I’ve never been in Hatfield before now,” he said gently. “I work mostly in London.” She huffed out a little sob. He sensed she was coming to a crescendo, rather like a dramatic piece of music that seemed pastoral at first, then exploded. “I know yer his daddy, sir. I can’t take him. My parents are dead.” He coughed again. Blasted soot. “I’m sorry. It’s a terrible tragedy. You’re young to be all alone with a baby.” Her entire being seemed to shudder, then, like the strike of a cobra, she shoved the wriggling bundle into his arms and dashed down the passage. His arms fluttered like jelly for a moment, as if his bones had fled with the horror of the orphaned child’s appearance, until the baby opened its tiny maw and Charles found his strength. Then he realized the blankets were damp. Little fatherless, motherless Timothy whoever-he-was had soiled himself. The baby wailed indignantly but his aunt did not return. Charles completed his reporting duties with one hand while cradling the infant, now dressed in Charles’s cleanest handkerchief and spare shirt, in the other arm. Infant swaddling dried in front of the fire. When Charles had had his body and soul together well enough to chase after little Madge Porter, the proprietor of the Eight Bells had told him she wasn’t due there until the evening. He’d begged the man for names of any Porter relatives, but the proprietor had been unhelpful. Charles had tripped over to St. Ethelreda’s, still smelling smoke through a nose dripping from the cold. The canon had been of no use and in fact smelled of Hollands, rather than incense. He went to a barbershop, holding the baby while he was shaved, but the attendant refused to offer information. When the babe began to cry again, he took him to a stable yard and inquired if they had a cow. A stoic stableman took pity on him and sent him to his quiet wife, a new mother herself. She agreed to nurse the child while Charles went to Hatfield House to see if the marchioness had been found yet. He attempted to gain access to the marquess, still directing the recovery efforts. While waiting, he offered the opinion that they should pull down the remaining walls, which looked likely to kill the intended rescuers more assuredly than anything else in the vast acreage of destruction. Everyone coughed, exhausted, working by rote rather than by intelligence. After a while, he gave up on the marquess. He interviewed those working in the ruins to get an update for the Chronicle, then went to the still-standing east wing of the house to see the housekeeper. She allowed him into her parlor for half a crown. The room’s walls were freshly painted, showing evidence of care taken even with the servant’s quarters. A large plain cross decorated the free space on the wall, in between storage cupboards. The housekeeper had a tall tower of graying hair, stiffened by some sort of grease into a peak over her forehead. Her black gown and white apron looked untouched by the fire. When she spoke, however, he sensed the fatigue and the sadness. “I have served this family for thirty-seven years,” she moaned. “Such a tragedy.” He took some time with her recital of the many treasures of the house, storing up a collection of things he could report on, then let her share some of her favorite history of the house. But he knew he needed to return to gather the baby from the stableman’s wife soon. “Do you have a Lizzie Porter employed here?” “Yes, sir.” The housekeeper gave a little sob and covered her mouth. “In the west wing, sir. I haven’t seen her since the fire.” His fingers tingled. “Do you think she died?” “I don’t know, sir. Not a flighty girl. I doubt she’d have run off if she lived.” “Not a flighty girl?” He frowned. “But she has a babe.” He was surprised to know she had kept her employment. The housekeeper shook her head. “She’s an eater, sir, but there never was a babe in her belly.” The story became steadily more curious. “Did she take any leave, about four months ago? In July or August?” The housekeeper picked up her teacup and stared at the leaves remaining at the bottom. “An ague went around the staff in the summer. Some kind of sweating sickness. She had it like all the rest. Went to recuperate with her sister.” “Madge?” She nodded absently. “Yes, that Madge. Just a slip of a girl. Hasn’t come to work here but stayed in the village.” “I’ve met her. How long was Lizzie with her?” “Oh, for weeks. She came back pale and thin, but so did a couple of other girls. It killed one of the cook’s helpers. Terrible.” The housekeeper fingered a thin chain around her neck. It didn’t sound like a group of girls made up the illness to help Lizzie hide her expectations, but the ague had been timed perfectly for her to hide wee Timothy’s birth. Who had been the babe’s wet nurse? “Do you know where Madge lives?” “Above the Eight Bells, sir. Servants’ quarters.” The housekeeper set down her cup and rose, indicating the interview had ended. Charles checked around the pub again when he returned to town, just a short walk from the grand, if sadly diminished, house. The quarters for servants were empty. Madge seemed to have gone into hiding. How she could abandon her nephew so carelessly, he did not know, but perhaps she was too devastated by her sister’s death to think clearly. A day later, Charles and the baby were both sunk into exhaustion by the long journey to London. Charles’s carriage, the final step of the trip, pulled up in front of a stone building. Across from Mary-le-Bow Church in Cheapside, it had shop space, three floors of apartments, and a half attic on top. He’d had to hire a carriage from the posting inn where the coach had left them on the outskirts of town. While he had no trouble walking many miles, carrying both a valise and an infant was more than he could manage. At least they’d kept each other warm. He made his awkward way out of the vehicle, coughing as the smoky city air hit his tortured lungs. In his arms, the babe slept peacefully, though he had cried with hunger for part of the long coach journey. Charles’s friends, William and Julie Aga, had taken rooms here, above a chophouse. The building exuded the scent of roasting meats. His stomach grumbled as he went up the stairs to his friends’ chambers. William was a reporter, like Charles, though more focused on crime than government. Charles doubled over, coughing, as he reached the top of the steps. He suspected if he’d had a hand free to apply his handkerchief, it would come away black again. The door to the Agas’ rooms opened before he had the chance to knock. “Charles!” William exploded. “Good God, man, what a sound to torture my ears.” Charles unbent himself and managed a nod at his friend. William had the air of a successful, fashionable man-about-town, even at his rooms on a Thursday evening. He wore a paisley waistcoat under an old black tailcoat, which fit him like it had been sewn directly on his broad-shouldered body. They both prided themselves on dressing well. His summer-golden hair had darkened due to the lack of sun. He had the look of a great horseman, though Charles knew that William, like he, spent most of his time hunched over a paper and quill. “I like that fabric,” Charles said. “Did Julie make you that waistcoat?” “Charles.” William waved his arms. “Whatever are you carrying in your arms?” Charles dropped his valise to the ground. It grazed his foot. He let out a yelp and hopped. “Blast it! My toe.” William leaned forward and snatched the bundle from Charles’s arm. The cloth over little Timothy’s face slid away, exposing the sleeping child. “No room in the inn?” “Very funny,” Charles snarled. He rubbed his foot against the back of his calf. “That smarted.” “Whose baby?” “A dead serving maid’s. I remember you said that a woman across the hall from you had a screaming infant. Do you think she might be persuaded to feed this one? He’s about four months old.” William rubbed his tongue over his gums as he glanced from Timothy to Charles, then back again. “He needs to eat. I don’t want to starve him. Also, I think he’s a little too warm.” Charles gave Timothy an anxious glance. “Let’s hope he isn’t coming down with something.” William stepped into the passage and gave a long-suffering sigh. Then, he crossed to the other side and used his elbow to bang on the door across from his. “Mrs. Herring?” Charles heard a loud cry in the room beyond, a muttered imprecation, and a child’s piping voice, then the door opened. A girl about the age of his youngest brother, Boz, opened the door. “Wot?” she said indistinctly, as she was missing several teeth. “I need your mother,” William said, smiling at the girl. The girl turned her head partway and shrieked for her mother. A couple of minutes later the lady of the house arrived, a fat babe burping on her shoulder. She appeared as well fed as the infant, with rounded wrists tapering into fat fingers peering out from her cotton dress sleeves. “Mr. Aga!” she said with a smile. Charles instantly trusted Mrs. Herring’s sweet smile. Her hand had gone to the top of her daughter’s head for a caress, the sort of woman who genuinely enjoyed her children. “Good lady,” Charles began. “I’ve been given the custody of this orphaned child due to a rather dramatic situation. Might you be able to take him in to nurse?” Mrs. Herring stepped toward William. She took one look at the sleeping Timothy and exclaimed, “Lor bless me!” She handed her larger infant over to her daughter, then reached out her hands to William. He promptly placed the bundle into the mother’s arms. Charles saw Timothy stir. He began to root around. “Hungry. Hasn’t been nourished since this morning.” “Poor mite,” Mrs. Herring cooed. “How could you have let this happen? They must be fed regularly.” “I don’t know how to care for a baby,” Charles admitted. “But I remembered my friends had you as a neighbor. Can you help him?” “We’ve no room for the tiny lad,” Mrs. Herring said sternly. She coaxed her daughter back inside. “I can pay for his board,” Charles responded. Mrs. Herring didn’t speak but her eyebrows lifted. “Just for tonight at first,” William suggested with an easy smile. “You can see the situation is desperate.” Charles reached into his pocket and pulled out a shilling. “I’m good for it. Truly. This would pay for days of his care if I hire a wet nurse. He has an aunt but she disappeared. I couldn’t find her before I had to return to London.” “We’ll talk to you again in the morning,” William said. “I won’t leave the building until we’ve spoken.” “Where am I to put him?” she asked, staring rather fixedly at the shilling. “The bed is full and we don’t have a cradle.” William nodded wisely, as if he’d thought of this already. “Mr. Dickens and I will consult with my wife and bring something suitable. If you can feed him while we wait?” Mrs. Herring reached out her free hand. Charles noted she had clean nails. She seemed a good choice for wet nurse. He placed the shilling in her palm and prayed they could make longer-term arrangements for a reasonable price. Timothy let out a thin wail. “He sounds weak,” Charles said, guilt coloring his words. “I’ll do what I can.” Mrs. Herring glanced at the babe in her arms, then shut the door. *** Excerpt from A Christmas Carol Murder by Heather Redmond. Copyright 2020 by Heather Redmond. Reproduced with permission from Heather Redmond. All rights reserved.

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Author Bio:

 

Heather Redmond is an author of commercial fiction and also writes as Heather Hiestand. First published in mystery, she took a long detour through romance before returning. Though her last British-born ancestor departed London in the 1920s, she is a committed anglophile, Dickens devotee, and lover of all things nineteenth century. She has lived in Illinois, California, and Texas, and now resides in a small town in Washington State with her husband and son. The author of many novels, novellas, and short stories, she has achieved best-seller status at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Her 2018 Heather Redmond debut, A Tale of Two Murders, was a multi-week Barnes & Noble Hardcover Mystery Bestseller. Her two current mystery series are “A Dickens of a Crime” and “the Journaling mysteries.” She writes for Kensington and Severn House. She is the 2020-21 President of the Columbia River Chapter of Sisters in Crime (SinC).

Catch Up With Heather Redmond: HeatherRedmond.com, Goodreads, BookBub, Instagram, Twitter, & Facebook!

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