Travellin’ Shoes, by V.M. Burns: Vandalism and Murder in a Small Town

Travellin’ Shoes ($14.95, 248 pages, 5×8 Trade Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-60381-689-2), by V.M. Burns, is the first cozy mystery in a series set in the fictional small town of St. Joseph, Indiana, and featuring Detective RJ Franklin and his colorful godmother, Mama B. When a small-town police detective investigates the killing of a choir director, he finds that nothing is as it seems, including the identity of the victim.

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“Early one morning, St. Joseph, Ind., police detective RJ Franklin, the narrator of this promising series debut from Burns (The Plot Is Murder), is out for a jog when he hears sirens and smells smoke. […] RJ finds plenty of suspects, including the church financial secretary and Ty’s attractive widow, along the way to the satisfying ending. Burns nicely portrays the close-knit ties among the members of the vibrant church community.” –Publishers Weekly Read more… 

“Sure to delight fans of Easy Rawlins. I loved watching RJ Franklin trying to dodge well-meaning matchmakers and brazen women while trying to solve a murder.”
–Victoria Thompson, bestselling author of Murder On Union Square

“Three things: One, do not mess with Mama B. Two, do try the Sweet Potato Pie. And three, most definitely DO read V.M. Burns’s delicious Travelin’ Shoes. An engaging mystery, wonderful characters, a lovingly drawn setting, and recipes–what more could you want?”
–Kay Charles, author of the Marti Mickkleson mystery series

“Travellin’ Shoes introduces the world of RJ Franklin, an Indiana police detective who returns from leave to look into the murder of his church’s new choir director. RJ’s investigation takes him–and us–into the places that serve as the backbone of the urban community–the churches, the hair salons and, perhaps most importantly, the dinner table of the beloved local church women who know any- and everything. Throughout it all, Burns flawlessly mixes the best elements of both cozy mystery and police procedural before reaching a pitch-perfect crescendo worthy of a Sunday morning gospel choir.”
–Kellye Garrett, author of the Detective by Day mysteries

A house fire is extinguished to reveal the body of a choir director. The smell of gasoline points to murder.

Thomas Warrendale was employed by First Baptist Church, where Detective RJ Franklin Jr. is a parishioner. Recovering from a car accident, RJ is on leave from the police force in St. Joseph, Indiana, when this puzzling case calls him back. His insider’s knowledge makes him the obvious choice to lead the investigation.

The congregation doubled after Warrendale revamped the music to appeal to a more youthful crowd. RJ’s godmother, Mama B, gives the detective an earful about the choir director’s non-musical activities. Warrendale was also an accountant and a “fancy pants” seducer. His clients believe the man was stealing from them. Warrendale turns out to be an alias; his real name was Tyrone Warren, once a highly paid CPA in Cleveland. Was Warren in hiding? From his stone-faced wife? A disgruntled client?

Now someone is breaking in to the dead choir director’s office and the homes of his former clients. Believing the vandal to be the killer, RJ is particularly concerned about the safety of one client, the striking owner of two hair salons.

Book 1 in the RJ Franklin Mystery series. Soul food recipes included.

V.M. Burns was born and raised in the Midwestern United States. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) and master’s degrees from the University of Notre Dame (Notre Dame, IN) and Seton Hill University (Greensburg, PA). She is currently thawing out in Eastern Tennessee. V.M. Burns is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and Sisters in Crime. She is the author of the Mystery Bookshop Mystery series and the Dog Club Mystery series. For more information about V.M. Burns, check out her website or her Facebook page.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“So, what do you think of that?” I asked Mama B.

Mama B rocked in silence for a few seconds. “I thought I was going to have to call 911 to get that fat tub of lard out of my chair.”

“I meant, what did you think of what he had to say?”

“Moe Chapman’s a liar. He was a liar as a child. Once a liar, always a liar.”

“He’s popular with the ladies.”

Mama B scrunched up her nose as though she’d smelled sour milk. “You would be too if you paid them.”

I spat out my lemonade. “How do you know that?”

“That Mercedes Jackson was bragging to Nettie Fay how Moe sends flowers to her job every week and pays for her to get her nails and hair done. He buys her clothes, pays her rent, and springs for expensive vacations and jewelry. They went on a cruise to the Bahamas over Christmas. Can you imagine all that fat lying on the beach? Lucky they didn’t mistake him for a beached whale and try to harpoon him. If that ain’t paying for a woman, then I don’t know what is.”

Whew. That wasn’t exactly what I was expecting when she said he “paid” for women, but it didn’t restore my faith in this supposed man of God. Where had all that money come from? I spent a few minutes trying to get her reaction to his comments about Sister Williams, but she remained uncharacteristically quiet on the subject. No matter how much I asked or what I said, she couldn’t or wouldn’t say more. Eventually, I decided to change the subject and had her fill me in on the dirt she’d gotten since yesterday. There wasn’t anything new, so I filled her in on my latest bombshell.

She snorted. “I don’t believe that boy was married.”

I knew that boy referred to Thomas Warrendale. Mama B’s likes and dislikes ran deep. Once she made her mind up about someone, there was no turning back.

“I assure you he was.”

“He certainly didn’t act like it. Just because you have a marriage certificate doesn’t mean anything.” Mama B rocked slowly. “A lot of people have diplomas, but that don’t mean they know the front end of a mule from the back.”

“Any truth to the rumors you all were talkin’ about yesterday?”

Mama B pursed her lips. “I don’t lie.”

“I know you don’t lie. I mean are you sure? Was Thomas Warrendale fooling around?”

“Mm-hmm … that’s what I heard. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

“Was there anyone in particular?”

Mama B rocked on. “I don’t know how par-tic-u-lar he was.” Mama B enunciated each syllable to make her point.

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