The Bell Tolls by R. Franklin James: A Blackmailer’s Surprising Legacy

bell_tollsThe Bell Tolls ($15.95, 256 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-217-7) is book 5 in R. Franklin James’ mystery/suspense series featuring Hollis Morgan. The young probate attorney’s past as a pardoned white-collar ex-con makes her a magnet for trouble. In this story, she is processing her client’s will when she discovers he was a blackmailer whose last wish was to set his victims free. Did one of them kill him? If Hollis finds the answer, she might be next.

** Click the cover image to order online **

** Or buy it for you Kindle, Nook, or from iBooks or Kobo **

“Full of suspense, with an intelligent and richly rewarding plot. Hollis Morgan is an engaging character, whose struggles to overcome obstacles is relatable and real.” Read more….

—Gwenellen Tarbet for InD’Tale Magazine

The Bell Tolls is the fifth book in novelist Franklin James’ outstanding Hollis Morgan Mystery series and continues to document her genuine flair for originality and her complete master of the mystery genre.”  Read more….

—Cowper’s Bookshelf, The Midwest Book Review

“From the first page I liked [Hollis]. She was relatable as well as fierce and determined. I loved that she always went the extra step for her cases and clients, even when it meant putting herself on the line. Her interactions with her clients were some of my favorite parts of the book. [….]The mystery in The Bell Tolls constantly had me guessing and plotting my own theories regarding the Bell Tolls case.” Read more….

—Lauren’s Reviews

“A murder mystery that is really going to make you think and boy was I surprised at the ending.” Read more….

—Maureen Timmerman’s Reviews

To read “A Day in the Life of Hollis Morgan,” click here.

The Bell Tolls is the fifth mystery in the Hollis Morgan Mystery series, which began with The Fallen Angels Book Club and continued with Sticks & Stones, The Return of the Fallen Angels Book Club, and The Trade List.

The Trade List’s two story lines are strong, detailed, with plenty of twists to keep readers turning pages. The unique concept of the Fallen Angels Book Club provides continuity and shows growth in her characters as they look into real life mysteries. A strong use of details throughout the book gives readers a feeling they are a part of the story.” —Edie Dykeman, reader, writer, reviewer

The Return Of The Fallen Angels Book Club is well crafted, the writing is top-notch and you can see just far the author has come from her first book. The confidence in writing shows every step of the way.” —Mystery Sequels.com

Sticks & Stones: “Readers are sure to be captured by this plot-twisting, exciting mystery. It is a real page turner and I certainly am going to keep reading this series.” —Long and Short Reviews

The Fallen Angels Book Club: “This book allows the reader to take part in the investigation; I felt my suspicions sift as each new clue was revealed. This is a remarkable, well-rounded mystery and I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys crime fiction.” —Books, Books, and More Books

Hollis Morgan has survived imprisonment, received a pardon and persevered to finally become a probate attorney. Tough as she is, her newest case will further test her mettle. She discovers her client, Matthias Bell, is a deceased blackmailer whose last wish was to return the damaging documents letting his victims off the hook. It falls to Hollis to give them the good news. But it becomes apparent that Bell was murdered, and the victims of “Bell’s tolls” are now suspects. Hollis’ white-collar criminal past has left her with keen survival instincts. A gifted liar, she knows a liar when she sees one. A lot of people in this case are lying and one is a killer.

On top of that, she’s also representing a dying stripper, a wealthy widow whose estranged daughter spurns her attempts at reconciliation, but whose husband sees the potential inheritance as mending all wounds.

Clients aside, Hollis is defensive and wary. Her mother, who hasn’t spoken to her for years, needs a kidney, and Hollis is a match, but neither are ready to put away the past. With Hollis’ fiancé and emotional support off on an undercover mission for Homeland Security, she must count on her own survival instincts. She is swept along on an emotional roller coaster as her absent love and her family’s coldness take their own toll. Work is her salvation. The specter of a killer keeps her focused. Hollis has always had to rely on her wits, but now she finds that others who don’t have her well-being in mind are relying on them as well.

Says James, “In this story I take Hollis to a new place, where she must face issues of how she deals with adversity. The story not only centers around literal blackmail but the ways in which we are blackmailed within our relationships.”

Franklin James grew up in the San Francisco East Bay Area, graduated from the University of California at Berkeley, and flourished in a career of public policy and political advocacy. She and her husband currently live in Northern California. Click here to find R. Franklin on the Web.

Regarding her solemnly, John raised the remote to shut off the TV.

“Talk to me,” he said, patting the bed for her to come and sit next to him.

“I heard from my sister,” Hollis said. As she plumped up a pillow, she recounted Rita’s news about Joe.

John tilted her chin up. “But there’s something else.”

She snuggled next to his chest. “They want the prodigal daughter to come home for a visit.”

He gave her a squeeze of understanding.

“Look, I need to finish packing. Let’s have a fast meal out and get back home. You can help me finish getting ready and then we can talk.”

Hollis nodded.

They dined at a popular neighborhood café. They kept the talk easy, and soon John had Hollis laughing about some of the “characters” on his job.

“You don’t have the corner on characters,” she chuckled. “Try working at Triple D.” They finished dinner on a high note.

Later, when they were back home, Hollis lay on the bed folding John’s socks into efficient rolls that would fit neatly in his softcover suitcase. He was chatting away about “the team” and how they felt more like brothers.

“Do you have a team sister?” she teased.

John looked up toward the ceiling. “Now that you mention it—”

She tossed a sock at him. He caught it midair and sat down next to her.

“Okay, let’s talk. You’ve been um … preoccupied since you got home. It’s not just the call from your family, is it? There’s more to it.”

“How can you say that? I’ve been talking all evening. Besides, this thing with going to see Mother, well, I admit it has me on guard.” She sighed, then told him about Bell and the safe full of file folders. She added, “And then with you leaving, I—”

He placed a finger over her lips. “Don’t.”

Hollis nodded. “Sorry.” She patted his hand, and then brought it to her lips. “I’m used to you being here or at least knowing where you are. This time … this time, you’ll just be out there.”

“You’re not worried, are you?”

“Who me, worry?”

They exchanged long looks and then kissed deeply. After a moment, they pulled away and Hollis pointed to his suitcase.

“Come on, we need to finish this,” she said.

He stood and bowed then returned to his packing, placing a bulky sweater in the bag. “If I understand what you’ve been saying, thanks to Bell you have a new job assignment as a high-paid delivery girl. Is it true you’re giving out free pizzas?”

“Very funny.” Hollis shook her head in frustration. “I’m beginning to think that Matthias Bell deliberately set me up.”

She told him about her conversation with Cantone.

“It sounds like blackmail to me,” she said, tossing a folded t-shirt in his bag. “But when I briefed Gordon, he nonchalantly told me it wasn’t my concern if Bell was a blackmailer.”

John shrugged. “Let’s say he was a blackmailer. Could it be that you’re too sensitive to the fact that Bell was a crook, and now that he’s dead, can’t be punished? On the other hand, he wasn’t all bad; he decided to release his victims.”

“That’s just it, John.” She deftly squeezed his favorite pair of Dockers into the suitcase. “Bell was a jerk. I can’t see him fearing the afterlife enough to give his victims back their lives.”

Comments are closed.