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.

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“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.”

Spine Damage, by Sharon St. George: A Desperate Search for a Missing Girl

spine_damageSpine Damage ($16.95, 328 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-581-9) is the fourth book in a mystery series featuring forensic librarian Aimee Machado and set in Northern California.

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A young man with a bullet in his spine lies in a coma. His sister Liliana was whisked away from Portugal’s Azores Islands on a superyacht. If Paulo never awakes, can Aimee and Nick still find Liliana in time to rescue her?

4 Stars: “Although this mystery deals with familiar material, the presentation is fresh and entertaining. Aimee’s best friend Cleo adds a spark to the novel. Some characters are not quite as they seem, which makes for interesting reading. Snappy dialogue draws attention to the rest of the story and pulls it all together. Hopefully there will be another addition to the Aimee Machado line.”  Read more….

—RT Reviews

“Aimee is a delightful narrator, full of heart, and is driven not to simply solve the case, but to find answers and justice. The mystery is real, riveting and challenging as Aimee puts forth every effort not to give up. The action keeps you guessing until the very end. A compelling read for any mystery lover!” Read more….

—Liz Konkel for Readers’ Favorite

“In Spine Damage, author Sharon St. George once again demonstrates her mastery of the genre with this fourth title in her outstanding Aimee Machado Mystery series. Unreservedly recommended for community library Mystery/Suspense collections.”  Read more….

—Midwest Book Review, Wisconsin Bookwatch

The series, which began with Due for Discard, has been well received by the critics:

Breach of Ethics: “An enthralling mystery with a fine attention to detail and delightful background on the main character’s family members. The mystery itself is a fascinating series of twists and turns.” —RT Reviews

Breach of Ethics: “Another riveting mystery from the pen of Sharon St. George, Breach of Ethics clearly demonstrates the author’s total mastery of the genre. Very highly recommended.” —The Midwest Book Review

Checked Out: “The story is interesting, unique, and fun, and the puzzle is challenging to solve ahead of the heroine.” —The New York Journal of Books

Due for Discard: “The multidimensional Aimee is a delightful character, full of spunk and grit.” —ForeWord Reviews

Paulo Ferrara, a young Portuguese man, lies comatose in the Emergency Department of Timbergate Hospital, shot in the spine. The neurosurgeon who would normally be in charge of his care has left town to attend to an injured daughter, and the only other neurosurgeon, the rude and egotistical Dr. Godfrey Carver, is about to be suspended for not completing his continuing education requirements.

The unpleasant duty of ensuring that the staff obey the rules lies with Aimee Machado, forensic librarian at Timbergate for over a year. Aimee and her pilot boyfriend Nick live together on her grandparents’ llama farm. While dealing with Dr. Carver, Aimee learns the circumstances of Paulo’s injury and enlists Nick’s help. Aimee is half Asian and half Portuguese, and her parents live on Faial, one of the Azores Islands off the coast of Portugal. Faial is the closest neighbor to Pico, home of Paulo and his family. Paulo came to rural Northern California in search of his fifteen-year-old sister Liliana, who vanished two weeks ago. Nick’s wealthy employer Buck Sawyer takes an interest in the girl’s plight as well, especially when they learn that she left the Azores on a super-yacht. Not only is Buck a yacht owner, but he is also on a crusade against drug trafficking, and Paulo and Liliana have clearly stumbled onto a criminal operation of some kind.

The trail leads Aimee and Nick from Timbergate, to the Azores, to San Francisco. Paulo’s condition is deteriorating, and he might never be able to explain what got him shot. Can Aimee, her brother Harry, and Nick unravel the mystery in time to save Liliana?

Says St. George, “Several years ago, I traveled with my brother on a pilgrimage to the Azores to find the home of our paternal grandparents, who emigrated to America early in the twentieth century. We were delighted to find our grandmother’s home and our roots, but that was only the beginning. We found an enchanting way of life and culture. Years later, when planning the Aimee Machado Mystery series, I knew that I wanted one to include a trip to the Azores, so I planted the seed by giving Aimee’s parents a home there. In Spine Damage, I was able to fulfill my desire to return to the islands, if only in the pages of this story.”

Sharon St. George’s writing credits include three plays, several years writing advertising copy, a book on NASA’s space food project, and feature stories too numerous to count. She holds dual degrees in English and Theatre Arts, and occasionally acts in, or directs, one of her local community theater productions. Sharon is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America, and she serves as program director for Writers Forum, a nonprofit organization for writers in Northern California. Click here to find Sharon online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

I strolled along the walkway leading to the main dock, hoping to look as if I belonged. When the couple ahead of me went through the security gate, I followed along behind them with a quick “Thanks,” as if they’d saved me the trouble of using my own passkey. When they went one way, I went the other.

The harbor was large. It was going to take some time to walk all the docks, so I picked up my pace, passing the sailboats quickly and moving on toward the outer edges where the largest of the power cruisers were moored. Nothing I spotted fit Catia’s description, although some of the yachts were twice the size of Buck’s. I had stopped to admire one of them when I heard loud voices farther down the dock. Two men were shouting at each other in what sounded like a heated confrontation. They stood on a large power yacht moored at the far end of the dock.

I stepped away from the main walkway onto the narrower finger of dock that separated two adjacent boats. From there, I could listen without being seen. The voices rose. I could tell they were male, but I couldn’t make out their words. A gusting wind had come up, causing the riggings of every sailboat in the harbor to jiggle and clank. I was about to step out from my hiding place when I felt the floating dock sway and caught the rhythmic beat of footsteps running in my direction. I edged farther back, away from the main dock.

I heard a loud report like a gunshot and saw a running man suddenly trip on a coil of rope and fall hard on the dock, just across from where I stood. Lying flat on his stomach, he turned his head toward me and our eyes met briefly. He looked young and scared. Blood trickled from his forehead.

I quickly hoisted myself up onto the nearest yacht, praying no one was on board. I dropped down and crouched in the cockpit, listening, straining to hear over the gusting wind and clanking riggings. I waited a few moments, but heard nothing more. I risked rising up slowly to take a look. The man lay still, eyes closed. No one else was around. As soon as I was sure it was safe, I would call 911 for medical help.

I ducked back down and listened intently for another two minutes. With my phone at the ready, I rose again and peeked at the spot where the victim had fallen.

No one was there.

Sapphire Pavilion, by David E. Grogan: an Old Crash Site in Vietnam Roils the Present

sapphireWhat is Sapphire Pavilion? Learning the answer may prove fatal.

Sapphire Pavilion ($15.95, 280 pages, 6×9 ISBN: 978-1-60381-603-8), by David E. Grogan, is book 2 in a series featuring retired Navy-JAG officer and Williamsburg, VA, attorney Steve Stilwell. Steve travels to Vietnam to free a fellow ex-Navy JAG from jail, only to stumble onto a deadly secret.

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Book 1, The Siegel Dispositions, is being reprinted as part of the Harlequin Worldwide Mystery series.

“A roller coaster of a thriller whose heart is a devotion to the struggles of veterans, those waiting to come home and the families of those who never will. [….] Accented by the call to recognize soldiers’ sacrifice, the story’s many threads weave a compelling exploration of veterans’ struggles then and now, and how they are far more similar than different. Grogan succeeds in pushing readers to think more deeply about wartime truths that remain buried overseas.”  Read more….

—Jackie Mohan for the Virginian Pilot

4 Stars: “Sapphire Pavilion is a tense thriller that builds slowly into a highly compelling plot. It deals with some heavy themes in a deft manner, especially with Casey’s journey into the past. The descriptions of Vietnam paint a portrait of a locale that is both sensitive and fascinating. It is technically a sequel, but it isn’t necessary to have read the book before this one. Sapphire Pavilion is a page-turner that keeps the reader on the edge of their seat from start to finish and is well worth a read.”  Read more….

—Mary Bennings for RT Reviews

“This is not about gems or architecture, and prior Stilwell experience is unnecessary. All you need do is allow this suspense novel to entertain you. [….] The situation brings international, military and political intrigue, a secretary of state who is tight-lipped about a relationship that goes back to when the city was called Saigon, a female agent who’ll muster any mystique for money, an Iraq veteran starting what she thinks will be a no-stress job at a small law firm in colonial Williamsburg, and a Vietnamese taxi driver who wants to get his family to the U.S. And there’s Stilwell, whose billable hours do not help his marital life. Throw in elements of bribery, treachery and ethics, and you’re hooked by the former Navy JAG officer’s second novel.” Read more….

—Military Times

5 Stars: “I really enjoyed this story and was engrossed in it from the first page. The intricate, fascinating plot deftly uses ‘what if’ to look back at a mission that might have happened during the Vietnam War era and convincingly creates the story from this imaginary incident [….] The settings are very vivid and I felt the heat and chaos in Ho Chi Minh City, and soaked up the bureaucratic atmosphere of Washington, D.C. and the small town aura of Texas and Virginia [….] This is a fast-paced mystery and thriller gripped me from the beginning. I enjoyed every moment of it.”  Read more….

—Dianne Ascroft, author of historical and contemporary fiction

“I have recently completed three military/Tier One/Black Ops thrillers each of which will appeal to a big segment of the thriller audience. [….] Sapphire Pavilion by David E Grogan is perhaps my favorite of the three. [….] “Totally plausible, [….] this book is a page-turner and hard to put down until the very end.” Read more….

—Mystery Maven Blog

5 Stars: “A gripping story that had me on the edge of my seat. I shall certainly be adding David’s first book The Siegel Dispositions to my wish list.” Read more….

—Yet Another Blogging Mummy

“Grogan’s richly layered writing style brings you into the pages, like a virtual reality. It’s more than an excellent read. It’s an experience.”

—Carine McCandless, author of the New York Times best seller, The Wild Truth

“A thrilling, intriguing tale, Sapphire Pavilion leaves you hanging by the seat of your pants. The fast-paced action is continuous, climbing every step of the way. With every turn of the page, you find yourself digging deeper into Steve’s unexpected circumstances. While this book is a part of the series, the author has written it in such a way that it also acts as a standalone. Will definitely be catching up on book one. Thanks for a great read!”  Read more….

—Lissette Manning, Simplistik.org

“David Grogan’s Sapphire Pavilion is a page turner with twists and turns on just about every page. From a sleepy law practice in Southern Virginia to the streets and back alleys of Ho Chi Min City to the corridors of the U.S. State Department Grogan’s protagonist/retired Navy JAG Captain Steve Stilwell manages to piece together a long-buried truth that threatens to destroy him and others.” —Gene Pell, host of the nationally syndicated radio program, Veterans Chronicles

“This book is set in Vietnam. The American author wrote it while in Vietnam. And that’s why I like it. It’s an authentic portrayal of an oft misunderstood place and it shows how it is right now, today. The author could’ve relied on his imagination, secondhand research, TV, movies, the Internet, etc. But he chose not to. Instead, he did the legwork and brought current day Vietnam to life from his own personal perspective. And let me tell you, it makes for a much more interesting read.”  Read more….

—City Girl Who Loves to Read

“Let me tell you, this is novel is so chock full of suspense that you won’t want to put down, as you follow their dangerous pursuits through the openly corrupt Vietnamese system and back again to the covertly crooked one, existing in America. If you like political thrillers with jaw-dropping plot twists at the end, then this one’s for you.”  Read more….

—Tribute Books Mama

“A nonstop thriller, this second addition to the ‘Steve Stilwell Thriller’ can be read in order or as a standalone work. With minimal romance, but tons of action and conspiracy to unravel, readers will find themselves fully entrenched in the story.”  Read more….

—Sarah E. Bradley for InD’Tale magazine

5 stars: “Sometimes a supporting character really steals the show, and in this one it’s an ex-Army fighter pilot, who just so happens to be a woman.”  Read more….

—Laura’s Reviews

Steve Stilwell’s former Navy JAG Corps buddy Ric Stokes has been jailed for possession of heroin in Vietnam. He was found in the same room with his traveling companion Ryan Eversall, who died of an overdose in the company of a prostitute. Steve knows his friend is a straight arrow. Was he set up? If so, for what reason? Steve travels to Ho Chi Minh City in search of the truth.

In no time Steve is targeted by the people who framed his friend. A beautiful young American businesswoman insinuates her way into the case. Can she really help, or is she just a dangerous distraction? Ric and Ryan came to Vietnam in search of an Air Force transport plane that disappeared in 1968. The pilot was Ryan’s father. Before the heroin bust, they had located the wreckage. Ryan’s notebook, which Steve manages to obtain, spells out the exact location. Ryan’s widow has given Steve’s associate Casey another piece of valuable evidence, a file labeled “Sapphire Pavilion.” Someone is willing to go to any lengths to steal both the notebook and the file.

From Virginia and Texas to DC and Vietnam, powerful, all-seeing forces with unlimited resources are determined to bury the truth about Sapphire Pavilion. But they have grossly underestimated Steve Stilwell and his associate Casey, a former Army pilot who lost her leg in a helo accident. And the ability to inspire loyalty wherever you go can come in handy when danger lurks behind every corner.

Says Grogan, “I wanted to write something that would honor Vietnam veterans in a very real way, while still entertaining and engaging the reader. There was one significant impediment: I had never been to Vietnam. I remedied that problem by traveling to Vietnam in July of 2014. I should say, once I dove into the former Saigon and walked its streets, ate at its restaurants, visited its historical sites, and talked to its people, the story wrote itself. By the time I left Vietnam, I had a solid start on the manuscript, a camera overflowing with pictures to help inspire later chapters, and a host of memories from all the people I met while I was there. Sapphire Pavilion is the culmination of everything I experienced on that trip to Vietnam, but most of all, it’s my salute to the war’s lost heroes still waiting their turn to come home.”

David E. Grogan was born in Rome, New York, and raised in Cleveland, Ohio. A certified public accountant and an attorney with a master’s degree in International Law, Grogan served on active duty in the U.S. Navy for over 26 years as a Navy Judge Advocate. His experiences abroad and during the course of his career influence every aspect of his writing. Grogan currently resides with his wife in Illinois. They have three children. Click here to find Grogan online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

In the short period they had been sitting down, the sky to the east had grown ominous, with dark clouds jutting out from behind the tall buildings and heading their way. It didn’t look like a good time for a motorcycle ride, especially since he was carrying his planner with the notebook inside. Although it zipped closed, he didn’t want to risk getting the planner, or more importantly, the notebook wet.

“It looks like it’s going to rain,” Steve said. “Should we go someplace to wait out the storm?”

“No need,” Phan said, not looking at Steve, his head turned toward a man standing near a light post about twenty feet down from where Phan’s motorcycle was parked. “I give you raincoat.” Lightning flashed over the skyline as he finished speaking, with a gigantic boom of thunder reverberating through the air. As if on cue, all the motorcycles pulled off to the side of the road, their drivers and passengers donning plastic ponchos and raincoats before the storm hit. A few seconds later, the masses were all heading on their way again, their ponchos flapping in the wind behind them.

When they got to Phan’s bike, Phan lifted the seat and pulled two green plastic ponchos with hoods from the cargo compartment. He handed one to Steve and started to put the other on himself. “You put on,” he instructed. Then he drew close to Steve, his back to the man under the light post, and spoke quietly.

“That man under light post behind me was at hotel when I pick you up. I think he following us. You know him?”

Steve peered at the man out of the corner of his eye. He was now leaning up against the light post, nonchalantly smoking a cigarette and seemingly indifferent to the coming storm. After blowing a big puff of smoke over his head, he looked directly at Steve. Steve pulled the poncho over his head and pretended to show no interest. Phan was right; they were being followed.

“I don’t. Do you?”

“Me either. You get on bike and hold tight. Phan very good driver. I lose him.”

Another movie phrase, but this time Steve didn’t laugh. First someone tears up his hotel room; now some thug follows him. Although not exactly the way Phan would describe it, Steve knew it was his turn to be in for a world of trouble. The drug cartels or whoever else framed Ric were after Ryan’s notebook, but why? And once they got it, would they be content to take the notebook, or would they want to silence him as they had Ryan and Ric? The only way to avoid finding out was to keep them from getting the notebook. He straddled the bike as another bolt of lightning flashed across the sky and the rain started to blow in. He hoped Phan knew what he was doing.

Two Heads Are Deader Than One, by Elena Hartwell: An Old Friend Sends Eddie into a Tailspin

two_headsTwo Heads Are Deader Than One ($15.95, 286 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-313-6) is book 2 in Elena Hartwell’s Eddie Shoes Mystery series set in Bellingham, Washington. Soon after PI Eddie Shoes’ best friend from Spokane shows up in a Bellingham jail, two bodies are found bearing Eddie’s business cards.

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The Audiobooks of One Dead, Two to Go and Two Heads Are Deader Than One are produced by Audible.com.

The 5×8 trade paperback is distributed by Epicenter Press/Aftershocks Media. Wholesale customers, contact orders@epicenterpress.com.

“Chava, the mother, is a hoot and Franklin is about as loyal and intelligent as a big dog can be. Chance, the now maybe lover, is attractive and the mystery is indeed mysterious pretty much up until the end. There are enough quirks in the characters and twists in the development of the story to keep things satisfyingly interesting all the way through. Elena Hartwell has conjured up a plausible protagonist and done a good job of plunking her into a setting and plot that nicely suit her.”  Read more….

—Diana Borse for Reviewing the Evidence

5 Stars: “The characters are likeable and believable and Chava, Eddie’s card-dealing mom, is especially charming. It’s impossible not to root for them all through the story. Author Elena Hartwell showcases a delightful heroine in a story that promises pleasant romance and a hint of danger with a twist of an ending. This will keep one from ever putting this book down!”  Read more….

—L. Kane for InD’Tale Magazine

“An engaging mystery that will keep you stumped to the very end. This novel had many twists and turns so that I was kept guessing all the way to the surprise ending. The characters are quite impressive and I enjoyed getting to know them. I could relate to Eddie and loved her quirky mother, Chava. However, Dakota’s character brought back unpleasant memories of high school and she made a great antagonist …. Although this novel is part of a series, it is a good standalone. For those who are fans of whodunits, this is a great read.”  Read more….

—Susan Sewell for Readers’ Favorite Reviews

“Two Heads are Deader Than One is the second title in author Elena Hartwell’s Eddie Shoes Mystery’ series and continues to demonstrate her genuine flair for writing carefully crafted, impressively entertaining, and original mysteries.” Read more….

—Helen Dumont for Midwest Library Review

“A great mystery from the get-go, packed full of interesting characters. Eddie and her mom make a great team and for once the first person narrative, usually a turn off for me, kept the story moving on a steady burn. What was most remarkable for me though was the interesting presentation of mental health issues. The author’s writing style gave me a modern Mikey Spillane vibe and was quite enjoyable from beginning to end.”  Read more….

—I Read What You Write blog

4 Stars: “The stories move quickly, there’s always danger, moments that make you laugh, and you worry about Eddie. She’s a good PI but she’s not real careful about her own safety. The author has her sticking her nose out a little further than necessary but it sure makes for a fun read.” Read more….

—Aloe for Long and Short Reviews

“Eddie Shoes is back in another page turner. Haven’t read book one yet? No problem. New readers to the series should be able to jump right into the story. Hartwell provides enough detail to get them up to speed without slowing down those who have read book one [….] Eddie’s witty no-nonsense personality and Hartwell’s well-paced writing style make the chapters fly by.”  Read more….

—Readeropolis

“The author does and great job of weaving details and people together making a whodunit that mystery lovers will want to read!”  Read more….

—My Journey Back Blog

“Private investigator Eddie Shoes needs to buy some sneakers. Danger is coming at her that fast in Two Heads Are Deader Than One, the excellent new installment in Elena Hartwell’s mystery series. A friend from her high school days shows up out of the blue, needing bail and trailing trouble. Nothing’s what it seems in this tense crime novel, though at least Eddie has the aid of her card shark mom and the company of her giant dog Franklin. Fascinating characters and a story that dares you to put the book down make this book a winner. One murder follows another, guns multiply and Eddie gets put in a frame. Mystery fans will be carried right to the end by this crackling tale.”

—Rich Zahradnik

“Boasting a wonderful cast of characters that included Eddie and her delightfully charming mother, this was a great read and I can’t wait to read the next book in this terrific series.”  Read more….

—Dru’s Book Musings

“In addition to convincing voices and accents for other characters, such as Shoes’s Latino father and an Indian landlord, Driscoll dons a gravelly tone for Shoes’s Jewish mother. Chava’s straight-shooting comments add humor and moments of tenderness to an enticing story that puts a unique spin on a classic detective genre.”  Read more….

—Review of Audiobook from Audiofile Magazine

Private Investigator Eddie Shoes is enjoying a rare period of calm. She’s less lonely now that Chava, her card-counting mom from Vegas, is sharing her home. She also has a new companion, Franklin, a giant dog of curious ancestry.

Hoping for a lucrative new case, Eddie instead finds herself taking on a less promising client: her best friend from her childhood in Spokane. Dakota has turned up in Bellingham in jail, where she is being held on a weapons charge. Eddie reluctantly agrees not only to lend her friend money for bail but to also investigate who is stalking her. Soon after Dakota is freed, she disappears again, leaving Eddie to answer to the local cops, including her ex-boyfriend Chance Parker. Has Dakota been kidnapped? If not, why did she jump bail? What are Eddie’s business cards doing on the bodies of two murder victims?

The key to these mysteries lies in Dakota and Eddie’s shared history, which ended when Eddie left home after high school. As a person of interest in both murder cases, Eddie is forced to go in search of the truth, digging into the past and facing her own demons.

Says Hartwell, “I’ve always been intrigued with how the past informs the present, so it felt right when an old friend of Eddie’s showed up in book two, bringing murder with her.”

Elena Hartwell’s writing career began in the theater, where she also worked as a director, designer, producer, and educator. Productions of her scripts have been performed around the U.S. and abroad, with some of her plays available through Indie Theater Now and New York Theatre Experience, Inc. She lives in North Bend, Washington, with her husband. For more information, visit Elena’s website or her blog.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Tuesday morning found Franklin and me driving back to my office. I came in every day, regardless of whether or not I had active cases. Checking mail and phone messages was important, of course, but I also liked having a routine, somewhere to go. My office was my safe haven now that Chava had moved in.

Pulling into the lot in back, I noticed a car I didn’t recognize in the spot where I usually parked my Subaru—against the building, closest to the door. Ordinarily the lot was empty this early in the morning, but maybe Dakota had borrowed a car and was waiting for me. I parked in the row facing the side street. Despite my private, internal assurances I didn’t care one way or another whether Dakota skipped out, I’d felt let down yesterday when she didn’t show, so I hoped it was her. Had someone asked a few days ago if it mattered if I ever saw her again, “no” would have been my answer. But, now that she had resurfaced, I wanted her to be the best friend I’d loved, not the best friend I’d come to resent.

This time I locked the back door behind me, hoping Dakota was already here. Franklin ambled ahead of me down the hall but came to an abrupt halt outside the office across from mine, lying down to face the door. My office building was essentially a duplex. From where we were standing, my office was on the right and the other office was on the left, with the hall down the middle.

“What’s up, buddy?” I asked him. He was such an attentive listener I sometimes expected answers in English.

He looked at me, making no sound—English or otherwise—before putting his attention back on the door. His body was on high alert, tail flat to the floor.

“Someone in there?” I asked, apparently still expecting an answer. He uttered a short, sharp bark, proving my expectations weren’t unreasonable, except for the English part.

Was Dakota parked out back and in there now? I pulled out my cellphone and called her number, but the call went straight to voicemail.

I leaned against the door and listened. Nothing but a buzzing sound. And I got the faint whiff of a smell like someone forgot to take the garbage out. No one responded to my knock. Putting my hand on the doorknob, I discovered it was unlocked. I could just poke my head in. But what if it wasn’t Dakota, and I walked in on some guy getting his “cards read” by one of the resident hookers? That was something I did not want to see.

Before anything else, I decided to park Franklin in my office. For whatever reason, my dog had not taken to Dakota and vice versa. I also didn’t bring Franklin into a business unless animals were allowed. I could usually count on him to settle right down with his chew toy, but not today. Once we stepped into my office, he danced around in front of me, as if to block me from getting back out the door. Considering his size, he did a pretty good job.

“Franklin, I will be right back. Honest. You don’t have to worry.”

The task of getting past him was arduous. I got halfway out the door and so did he, pushing his way into the hall. It took all my upper body strength to shove him back inside. I managed to get the door closed, but heard him woofing.

That was one unhappy dog.

Opening the door to the office across the hall, I was smacked in the face by two things: the stench, which was much worse than I’d thought, and the heat. The stench was so strong, it coated my throat. The heat was so high, I started to sweat.

The room smelled like a cross between rotten meat and bodily fluids.

Death in a hothouse.

What I wanted to know was whose.

My heart started to pound. I’d put on gloves that morning with the colder temps, and it crossed my mind to leave them on. I felt around on the wall for the switch, flooding the room with light. The office had been broken up into smaller rooms with temporary walls; they were composed of flimsy metal frames covered in padded fabric for soundproofing.

Sweat trickled down between my shoulder blades, but I wasn’t taking my coat off now. If some awful crime had taken place here, I didn’t want to shed DNA in the form of hair or skin cells. I could get in enough trouble just walking through the door.

I stepped farther into the room and looked around, coming face to face with a corpse.

My heart leapt a bit when I realized it wasn’t Dakota. Then the reality set in. It was still a life cut short.

The man was dead. No doubt about it. Deader than a doornail—an expression I’ve never really understood, because a doornail isn’t alive to begin with. But dead he was, nonetheless. And, considering the smell and his skin tone, probably for a few days. I wasn’t squeamish by nature, but I could have gone my entire life without seeing a corpse covered in blowflies. It was one thing to be aware we all return to this earth, another to see the evidence up close.

The hole in his forehead, which seemed to point to how he ended up in his current state of deadness, would most likely turn out to be a gunshot wound, not a third eye. But I’d leave it to the medical examiner to poke around in his skull and verify the breach had been made by a bullet, rather than just an explosive chakra.

A quick look around eliminated suicide, in my opinion. There was no gun in sight and the wound was free of stippling or marks of contact from a weapon. People don’t shoot themselves between the eyes. Even if they have arms that are long enough, it’s just too awkward.

 

Seven Wings to Glory, by Kathleen M. Rodgers: a Columnist Exposes Her Town’s Racist Past

seven_wingsSmall towns harbor big secrets.

Seven Wings to Glory ($15.95, 304 pp., IBSN: 978-1-60381-599-4) is a work of women’s contemporary fiction by Kathleen M. Rodgers. A woman whose son is fighting in Afghanistan uses her newspaper column to expose a shameful legacy of racism in her small Texas town. Seven Wings to Glory is the sequel to Johnnie Come Lately.

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Johnnie Come Lately received several awards, including First Place in Women’s Fiction for 2016 Texas Association of Authors Best Book Award Contest, a gold medal in the Military Writers Society of America 2015 Book Awards, and a bronze medal in the Readers’ Favorite 2015 Book Awards–Women’s Fiction Category. The cover of Johnnie Come Lately was one of eight winners in the Southern Writers Magazine’s Cover Contest.

Kathleen lives in a suburb in North Texas. Kathleen has a particular connection with the military; her husband is a retired fighter pilot/commercial airline pilot and her youngest son is a former Army officer who deployed to Afghanistan in 2014. Her first novel, The Final Salute, takes place on an air force base.

Seven Wings to Glory “masterfully weaves the story of the Kitchen family, capturing a vivid snapshot of the American South.”

—“On the Shelves” library feature, Eastern New Mexico News

Seven Wings to Glory is “full of elements that draw the reader in. [….] You will like the conscientious Johnnie and her friends and family so much that when you close the book, you might even seek out the first novel in the series, just so you don’t have to say goodbye.” Read more….

—Lisa Shirah-Hiers for Story Circle Book Reviews

“A nuanced portrayal of military connectedness…. Rodgers writes convincingly of relationships, foibles and struggles. Johnnie’s worry over her son is particularly tangible, informed by Rodgers’ experiences as the mother of a deployed soldier…. In Seven Wings to Glory, the author has created a satisfying story, one that reveals the variety of military family experiences.”  Read more….

—Terri Barnes for Stars and Stripes

“In Seven Wings to Glory, author Kathleen M. Rodgers tells a layered story of life as we know it. It’s rarely simple and often riddled with secrets and surprises. Rodgers’ latest book explores loss, racism, forgiveness, and hope. [….] Surrounded by people whose love is sure, if sometimes imperfect, Johnnie navigates life with determination and steadfast hope.”  Read more….

—Sharon Vander Meer, One Roof Publishing Magazine

“I was so happy to be reunited with the ‘Lois Lane of Portion, Texas,’ again—Johnnie Kitchen—in Seven Wings to Glory. Kathleen M. Rodgers writes so sensitively about Johnnie and her family that I find myself growing truly devoted to them, eager to share in their joys, their laughs, fears, their very real losses. Johnnie and Dale’s worry over their son Cade’s combat deployment is realistically and carefully wrought, and her distress over a sudden resurgence of racism in her hometown brought out my fighting spirit right alongside hers. Of course, because this is Johnnie Kitchen, the story unfolds with equal parts grit, humor, and generosity, with unforgettable characters to meet along the way. I adore the flawed, imperfect, deeply loving, and tough-as-nails Kitchen family: I would read a hundred books about them, and I will read anything Kathleen M. Rodgers writes.”

—Andria Williams, author of The Longest Night and founder of Military Spouse Book Review

“Kathleen Rodgers is adept at creating graceful characters. In her third novel, Seven Wings to Glory, Johnnie Kitchen and the residents of Portion, Texas, return to exhibit the power of love to transform even those seemingly damaged beyond repair: an injured solider, a mother who abandoned her daughter, even a young boy poisoned by racism. Rodgers depicts her characters fully and empathetically, inspiring her readers to have the same grace exhibited by the Kitchen family and friends.”

—Terri Barnes, author of Spouse Calls: Messages From a Military Life, a collection of her columns for Stars & Stripes

5 Stars: “Seven Wings to Glory captures the mind, heart and soul of its heroine. Kathleen M. Rodgers’ gift of storytelling is extraordinary. She pens true emotions, and although her works are fictional, they portray genuine realities. Her words and writing style pluck at your heartstrings[….] The theme throughout the story is faith. No matter what happens, or how bad life seems—never surrender your hope. Do whatever it takes to survive and then move on. With each word, the story becomes more earnest and heartfelt. Seven Wings to Glory is a novel that you don’t want to end.”  Read more….

—Cheryl E. Rodriguez for Readers’ Favorite Reviews

“This book is terrific [….] Rodgers’ stories are imaginative and engaging. No wonder I think she’s one of the best. I love the way she takes you step by step though Johnnie’s life, whether it is about her family or her writing. I loved this book so much I was sorry I finished it in one day. Rodgers shows what a family goes though when one of them is off to war. My heart goes out to these families. With what is going on now in our country, Kathleen connects on all of this. Great book! Read Johnnie Come Lately first, then this one. You will love them both.” Read more….

—Sharon Salituro for Fresh Fiction

“There’s enough warmth, heart string tugging and heartbreak in Rodgers’ blend of an imminently lovable protagonist, a postcard pretty small town, and a cast of quirky townsfolk to give fans of the Kitchen family hope for more adventures to come.”  Read more….

—Melissa Embry’s Blog

“Johnnie Kitchen is the kind of character all fiction writers dream of creating. Kathleen Rodgers is a master at writing women’s fiction and proves it in her new novel, Seven Wings To Glory. A rich, timely story of love and strength.”

—Ann Hite, award-winning author of Sleeping Above Chaos, fourth novel in the Black Mountain series

Seven Wings to Glory humorously captures the gamut of emotions common to military families dealing with deployments, homecomings, and the struggle to make everyday living as routine as their civilian counterparts. Kathleen M. Rodgers, herself a military wife and mom, expertly characterizes the soaring pride and gripping fear of life in the military. Set against a backdrop of racial discord, Seven Wings to Glory will make its mark on readers, ensuring they never forget that as long as one of us is denied freedom there can be no true freedom for the rest of us.”

—Karen Spears Zacharias author of Burdy (Mercer University Press).

“I really loved Seven Wings to Glory! Kathleen M. Rodgers has the gift of making you care deeply about her characters, and in this sequel to Johnnie Come Lately she explores some important issues: Johnnie’s son is serving in the military in Afghanistan, and back home, Johnnie is dealing with the impacts of racism on her friends and her town. I had a hard time putting this book down until I reached the end!”

—Deborah Kalb, author of George Washington and the Magic Hat and Haunting Legacy, co-authored with Marvin Kalb

“Kathleen Rodgers is a true painter/artist of words. She has the ability to bring her characters alive on the pages of her books. The characters she creates resonate with her readers and they are drawn into a world that captures their imaginations and doesn’t let go, not even when they finish the book. Rodgers has also been able to open up this world to civilians helping them to understand, love and respect our men and women in the military, their families and the sacrifices they make daily. Her newest book, Seven Wings to Glory, opens our eyes to man’s capacity to hate but it also opens our eyes to man’s capacity to love and forgive and the power that love brings.”

—Susan Reichert, Editor-in-Chief, Southern Writers Magazine

“From the start of Seven Wings to Glory, Kathleen Rodgers skillfully shows how no town is small enough and no family perfect enough to be outside the reach of war, racism, and the heartbreak life hands out on a regular basis to all those who love. She especially shines when she gives us a young man who could easily have been seen as a villain but is much more complex than that and requires more from the central characters and his small town than they may be prepared to give. With this wonderful sequel to her novel, Johnnie Come Lately, Rodgers opens the reader’s eyes and heart.”

—Elizabeth Marro, author of Casualties

“Kathleen Rodgers saved the best for last in Seven Wings to Glory, her third book and the second of her Johnniebird novels. Deftly wrapping her story around characters we first came to know in Johnnie Come Lately, Rodgers’ fiction is both sensuous and gritty, and her references to people and topics currently in the news make this story riveting, with seven wings adding a touch of mystery.”

—Drema Hall Berkheimer, author of Running on Red Dog Road: And Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood

Johnnie Kitchen is finally living her dream, attending college and writing a column for the local paper. She adores her husband Dale and chocolate Labrador Brother Dog, and they reside in a comfortable home in the small town of Portion in North Texas. Their three children are thriving and nearly grown.

But Johnnie is rattled when her youngest boy Cade goes to fight in Afghanistan. The less frequent his emails, the more she frets for his safety. On the home front, Johnnie learns that Portion is not the forward-thinking town she believed. A boy Cade’s age, inflamed by a liberal bumper sticker and the sight of Johnnie’s black friend Whit, attacks them with the N-word and a beer bottle. After Johnnie writes about the incident in her column, a man named Roosevelt reaches out with shameful stories from Portion’s untold history. More tears and triumphs will follow, as Johnnie’s eyes are opened to man’s capacity for hate and the power of love and forgiveness.

Says the author, “I’m driven to explore the issue of military service when only one half of one percent of Americans are willing to step up and defend our freedom and democracy. My challenge in Seven Wings to Glory was to effectively depict how the trauma of war can affect generation after generation. Yes, there’s a persistent underbelly of racism in our society, but I hoped to convey that these attitudes are partly born of poverty and ignorance and could change if those problems were addressed. This story is a bit of a departure for me in that it contains an element of magical realism.”

Kathleen M. Rodgers’ stories and essays have appeared in many magazines and anthologies. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Through the open passenger window, they caught sight of a teenage boy wearing a straw cowboy hat and a dirty white T with the sleeves cut off at the shoulders, emphasizing his ropy sun-burnt arms. His eyes were hidden behind sunglasses.

The kid flashed a toothy grin then peeled out down the street.

“He reminds me of Cade,” Johnnie joked, “in a country-boy kind of way.”

The pickup didn’t get far before it whipped a U-turn in the middle of the block, tires squealing, and headed back toward them.

Johnnie heard Whit catch her breath. “I don’t hear any music, do you?”

As Johnnie strained to listen, Whit grabbed her by the arm like she was afraid.

The truck veered sharply to the left, crossed the centerline, and barreled straight toward Granny’s car.

Clinging to each other, Johnnie and Whit stumbled back, trying to get out of the way.

At the last second, the driver swerved to the right, barely missing the Lincoln.

“Nigger lover!” he screamed and flung a beer bottle out the window.

As the ugly slur crackled around them, the bottle torpedoed through the air and exploded at the base of the war memorial, sending brown glass and yeasty foam flying.

Time slowed as Johnnie stared at the kid, his creepy grin reminding her of a jack-o’-lantern. “You stupid jerk!” she bellowed, trying to read the kid’s license plate, but the truck sped away too quickly.

Like shock waves, the racial slur reverberated in her ears, and Johnnie went numb when she turned to find Whit standing rigid in the middle of the sidewalk, breathing through her nose. Tears ran down both sides of her cheeks. She sniffed and closed her eyes, as if she couldn’t believe what had happened.

“That stupid kid’s probably just pissed off because a black man’s in the White House. He saw Granny’s bumper sticker and—”

“That beer bottle was meant for me,” Whit croaked, looking taller and more regal than ever.

“It was meant for all of us.” Mama leaned against the war memorial, seeming not to notice her blood-splattered culottes or the blood dripping down one leg.

“Oh my God, Mama, you’re bleeding.” Johnnie rushed to her side, glass crunching under her shoes.

“It don’t matter,” Mama said, digging through her purse for what Johnnie thought was a cigarette. Mama pulled out a wad of paper napkins and hobbled over to Whit. “Sorry I don’t have any tissues, sugar. These’ll have to do.”

Whit took the napkins and dabbed at her wet cheeks. “After all this time,” she sniffed, her voice choked with tears, “there’s still so much hate in this country.”

Mama nodded then put her arm around Whit. “And so many ignoramuses like that fool.”

Staring up at the bronze soldier, Johnnie vowed to get even. She wanted justice.

“That white kid in his pick ’em up truck isn’t the only one in Portion who knows how to turn words into weapons, is he, Mr. Statue Man?”

Old Bones Never Die, by Lesley A. Diehl: Eve Gets Serious About Sleuthing

old_bonesMake no bones about it. With this case, Eve must deliver or die.

Old Bones Never Die ($15.95, 272 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-317-4) is the fifth cozy mystery by Lesley A. Diehl in a series set in rural Florida and featuring consignment shop owner and amateur sleuth Eve Appel. After the half-brother of Eve’s friend Sammy finds human bones on a construction site, he is killed in a hit-and-run. People usually try to discourage Eve’s amateur sleuthing, but this time Sammy and his half-brother’s orphaned nephews urge her to investigate.

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** Or order it for your Kindle, Nook, or from iBooks or Kobo **

The series began with A Secondhand Murder and continued with Dead in the Water, A Sporting Murder, and Mud Bog Murder. Three short stories, available as Kindle Singles only, also feature Eve Appel. Lesley has written numerous other short stories and has seven other published mysteries: A Deadly Draught, Poisoned Pairings, Dumpster Dying, Angel Sleuth, Grilled, Chilled, and Killed¸ Murder is Academic, and Failure is Fatal.

“I can tell you that I have found a new hero in Eve Appel. She is one sassy, funny, and determined woman. The author has done a great job of keeping the story at a high caliber level with a mystery within a mystery.”  Read more….

—Texas Book-aholic

“This book was so wonderful, that I hope to chat with Eve one day. She seems like the kinda character a book lover would want to know. I know I do!”  Read more….

—Bree Herron, Bibliophile Reviews

“Another terrifically entertaining read from a master of the genre, Old Bones Never Die is the fifth book in author Lesley Diehl’s Eve Appel Mystery series and unreservedly recommended for community library Mystery/Suspense collections and the personal reading lists of all dedicated mystery buffs!”  Read more….

—Midwest Book Review, Wisconsin Book Watch

“A light, fast moving read, with enough suspense to keep you turning the pages. The solution to the mystery was not predictable (always a plus), and the story came to a satisfying solution. I also enjoyed the glimpse into Miccosukee heritage and the descriptions of Southern Florida, with its swamps, weather and wildlife.”  Read more….

—Cassidy’s Bookshelves

4 Stars: “This writer’s style is easy to read, she closes up any gaps in the story line and she’s made me want to read another in this series. Eve and Sammy are a joy to read about.” Read more….

—Aloe for Long and Short Reviews

“Just as I loved Laura Murphy in Murder is Academic and Failure is Fatal, I’m a big new fan of Eve Appel in Lesley A. Diehl’s Old Bones Never Die.”  Read more….

—Back Porchervations

“I like the mystery inside the mystery and Eve is one tough lady who is also funny and sassy. You will want to know more about her. A book you will not want to put down.”  Read more….

—Bab’s Book Bistro

“It was so cool how the author was able to create a mystery within a mystery without losing the reader. This is positively a series I will be catching up with and continue to follow.”  Read more….

—Rainy Day Reviews

“I loved my introduction to Eve Appel and her snooping friends. Old Bones Never Die is book 5 in the Eve Appel series. I found myself a few pages in wondering where I’ve been. How could I have missed this author and this series? [….] Although Old Bones is book 5 I didn’t feel like I needed to read any of the prior books in the series. But I ended up wanting to.”  Read more….

—My Journey Back Blog

Critics have raved about the Eve Appel Mystery series:

Mud Bog Murder: “The new Eve Appel Mystery is here and it is absolutely terrific[….] A great mystery that is all about a fun cast combined with an excellent plot, readers will be thrilled with this one.” —Suspense Magazine

“Settle in for a nerve-wracking mystery set in the rural Florida. Lesley A. Diehl’s A Sporting Murder may include women from West Palm Beach, but the characters and murderous activities are right out of old Florida[….] character-driven and action-packed.” —Lesa’s Book Critiques

Dead in the Water: “There is action galore. The plot becomes more convoluted as new developments take place just as answers seem evident. Each twist is followed by a further twist, the action is continuous, and Eve is suitably confused[….] Recommended.” —Michael F. Hennessey, I Love a Mystery

“Fun from Page one![….] I absolutely enjoyed reading A Secondhand Murder. The web of murder and deceit is well spun, but the characters Ms. Diehl has created are truly the shining stars of this book.” —Long and Short Reviews

Just before Walter Egret is killed in a hit-and-run, he phoned his half-brother Sammy to report that he’d unearthed their missing father’s pocket watch, along with a pile of human bones. The project is put on hold until it can be determined if the site is an Indian burial ground. Then the bones disappear.

Now Sammy and his brother’s three orphaned children want Eve Appel to go pro, applying her innate snoopiness to the trade of private investigator.

Eve already has her hands full with her two consignment stores. What is she going to do? Sammy and Walter are Miccosukee Indians, and Walter was employed as a backhoe operator on a construction site for a sportsmen’s resort. Was Walter’s death murder or an accident? If the bones belong to Sammy’s father, how did they get there? Delving into these mysteries, Eve is aided by her usual crew of friends and family. This adventure will not only up the stakes for Eve as an investigator, but it will also open her eyes to life possibilities she never imagined.

Says Diehl, “Indigenous peoples in the Americas struggle with the conflict between fitting into white culture and keeping their own traditions. In Florida the encroachment of development has removed natural habitat for numerous animal and plant species and destroyed breeding grounds, making it doubly difficult for a new generation of Native Americans to reclaim their historical roots in a shifting and often unfamiliar landscape. For the Miccosukee Indians in Eve Appel’s life, this struggle means walking the thin line between claiming what is good for their children in the old world and finding their place in the world created by white people.”

Lesley A. Diehl 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. Click here to find Lesley online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Smoke. Heavy, stale, like a burned-out campfire.

I moved out of the doorway and back into the hall. Someone was in the house. I knew it. I stopped and listened, but I heard nothing except my own heart racing in my chest until the compressor in the refrigerator kicked in. Wherever the intruder was, he or she had to have seen the lights of my car and Sammy’s truck. Wouldn’t the person be eager to get out of here to avoid discovery? Unless my unwanted visitor had something else in mind. I tried not to let my imagination provide unpleasant scenarios. I sniffed again. The smell seemed less pronounced. Maybe they had left. Better not to take chances.

I retreated down the hallway toward the living room. I’d turned on the ceiling light when I came in the door, but turned it back off at the switch on the wall by the hallway leading to the bedroom. I flipped the light back on and sighed with relief. No one was in the living room, and I could see across the way into the kitchen. The door to the garage was closed, but was it locked? Had my unwelcome visitor left by that exit and was now hiding in my garage? Or maybe in the bathroom or my guest room? Perhaps they’d gone out through the back door. I glanced at my purse on the couch. Get the hell out of the house, Eve, and call the cops. I moved toward the couch and reached for my purse to get my cellphone on my way out. The overhead light went out. Before I could retrieve my purse and retreat to the door, a hand encircled my throat in a steel grip. I tried to pull it away, but the hold tightened, and I thought I might pass out. I stumbled backward, reaching for the door knob. Another hand grabbed my arm.

“Quiet or you’re dead.” It was a man’s voice I thought I’d heard before, but he hadn’t spoken enough words for me to identify it. I tried to pull back, but he brought both his hands to my throat and tightened them. The pressure around my eyes mounted. I coul“What do you want?” I managed to squeak out. He said nothing, but pressed his thumbs into my throat and rammed his body against mine, moving me out of the living room and into the hallway.

If I’d left my stiletto heels on, I might have been able to stomp on his instep and do some damage. They were, miraculously, still in my hand, but I was too weak to take any kind of a swing at him. My shoes had never failed me before. They’d always proven to be an effective weapon. Now they just seemed like silly shoes worn by a woman too vain to consider sturdier footwear.

He relinquished his chokehold and shoved me toward my bedroom. “Get the door,” he said.

The Star in the Meadow, Book 4 of The Spanish Brand, an Historical Romance Series by Award-Winning Author Carla Kelly

star_meadowThe Star in the Meadow ($14.95, 256 pp., ISBN: 978-1-60381-992-3) is the fourth and final book in Carla Kelly’s historical romance series, The Spanish Brand. The series takes place at the end of the 18th century during the decline of the Spanish Empire in the New World. In this story, brand inspector Marco is torn between rescuing his wife Paloma from kidnappers and securing the Spanish Colony of New Mexico’s fragile peace.

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“The novel is filled with joy in its descriptions of newborn children; fear and delight during the telling of harrowing Mexican stories; terror during a kidnapping; and charm as a possible romance between two unlikely partners unfolds. The characters’ loyalty and honesty are remarkable because these qualities are coupled with pragmatism, hard work, expectations of cooperation from everyone, and the determination to snuff out all enemies. The Star in the Meadow is classic Western fiction, a terrific yarn that is somewhat contrived but will be treasured for its carefully measured, shifting tones long after the last page is turned. Fine historical fiction!”  Read more….

—The Historical Novel Society

5 Stars: “This story’s great strength is that it tells a darn good tale of romance and adventure in a pleasingly original way. The characters are fully formed human beings with their own strengths and weakness and history which combine to make a rich story. Ms. Kelly is a fantastic story teller and creates the right amount of drama with her descriptive prose. It is an immersive tale which keeps the reader engaged from the first page to the last!” Read more….

—Gwenellen Tarbet for InD’Tale Magazine

5 Stars: “A fantastic story of romance and adventure! [….] This book has just the right amount of action, romance and adventures to grab your attention from the beginning to end. The characters are strong and well developed. You will feel all types of emotions while reading – hopefulness, amusement, and delight. This story told of a strength that women have when they need it most and that love can change anyone.”  Read more….

—Between the Coverz

5 Stars: “This story is brimming with love, laughter, action, adventure, turmoil, heartache, and the list goes on. Ms. Kelly offers us a level of escapism that is truly worthy of the vast vistas of the old West.” Read more….

—The Romance Reviews

4 Stars: “The gripping love story embedded within this exciting western is an unexpected accompaniment to the non‐stop action and nail‐biting moments. Whether you’re a fan of historical novels or not, this author always finds a way to draw one in.”

—RT Reviews

5 Stars: “I’ve become quite invested in Marco and Paloma and their extended circle of family and friends.  Their love for each other and their kindness and generosity seems to have an almost magical, healing quality that enfolds their loved ones, bringing happiness and second chances. I found STAR IN THE MEADOW to be somewhat darker than previous books, and therefore more intense.  I hated what Paloma and Marco had to endure, yet I admit that I was totally enmeshed in the story.  Carla Kelly’s writing is masterful, and I can wholeheartedly recommend this whole series, and I believe you would enjoy each book more if you read them all.  STAR IN THE MEADOW is a stellar conclusion which will reside on my keeper shelf.  I’m sad to see this magnificent series end.” Read more….

—Roses Are Blue

Follow the blog tour on Book Unleashed.

Carla writes on the subject, “Why does accurate historical fiction even matter?”

Read Carla Kelly’s character profile of Marco Mondragon, the hero of The Spanish Brand series.

Kelly is the recipient of two RITA Awards from Romance Writers of America for Best Regency of the Year; two Spur Awards from Western Writers of America; three Whitney Awards: 2011, 2012, and 2014; and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Romantic Times.

The first three books in the series were enthusiastically received by the critics.

Paloma and the Horse Traders was chosen as a Top Pick (4½ stars) by RT Reviews: “Kelly knows historical romance, and she also knows how to reel readers in from the get-go. This book will take one’s breath away with the deep, emotional romance and highly likable characters. The story is adventurous and totally out of the ordinary, which makes it a splendid read and a completely satisfying experience.”

The Historical Novel Society gave Paloma and the Horse Traders an “Editors’ Choice” designation: “A rousing and exciting Western that will appeal to all readers…. Kelly knows her subject matter; her historical research is impeccable. But her research never gets in the way of her spinning a good yarn. This is a great read, and it is highly recommended.”

Of Marco and the Devil’s Bargain, Publishers Weekly wrote, “Though la viruela is, in some ways, the story’s main character, the love between Marco and Paloma, equal parts strong attachment and mutual high regard, takes emotional center stage, a satisfying oasis of beauty in the midst of stark harshness.”

All About Romance wrote that The Double Cross “packs a full story with plenty of frontier action and believable, sympathetic characters.

Marco Mondragón and his wife Paloma are living hectic but happy lives at the Double Cross, on the edge of Comanchería. Five years after the death of Comanche leader Cuerno Verde, cautious diplomacy between the tribe and the colonists is underway to end Comanche raids into New Mexico. Paloma’s time has been fully consumed by her two toddlers and newborn son and Marco’s by spring planting.

The Seven Year Audit of 1784 arrives and with it comes auditor Fernando Ygnacio. After years of incarceration for a crime he did not commit, Señor Ygnacio is a broken man. Although his daughter Catalina is bitter about his mistreatment by his superiors, her storytelling abilities captivate the household, including a frequent visitor from the nearby presidio, El Teniente Joaquim Gasca, who has been undergoing his own reformation from rascal to leader.

Unknown to him, Marco has peculiar enemies plotting his downfall. When Paloma and Catalina set out on a visit to Marco’s sister, meant to give Paloma relief from her busy life, the women are kidnapped. Devastated, Marco is torn between love and duty. He yearns to search for his wife, but feels bound by colonial duties to accompany his friend Toshua to Río Napestle, where Comanches have gathered to debate the region’s fragile peace. In his absence from the Double Cross, will Joaquim Gasca and Toshua’s wife Eckapeta be able to find the missing women?

“Coming to the end of a series is bittersweet,” says Kelly. “Historically, this fourth book fits actual events, which culminated in a treaty in early 1786. I’ll be wishing Marco, Paloma and Toshua well.”

A well-known veteran of the romance writing field, Carla Kelly is the author of thirty-seven novels and three non-fiction works, as well as numerous short stories and articles for various publications. Carla’s interest in historical fiction is a byproduct of her lifelong study of history. She has a BA in Latin American History from Brigham Young University and an MA in Indian Wars History from University of Louisiana-Monroe. Click here to find Carla online.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“It’s hard for me to even imagine a peaceful room with no one barging in, demanding this and that.”

“I think you can imagine it quite well!” Catalina teased. “Start now by taking a nap.”

Paloma yawned and close her eyes. “I’ll never get to sleep this way,” she murmured, just moments before she did precisely that.

Catalina closed her eyes, too, thinking of years of smarts and slights and rudeness. For some reason she had turned to them for nourishment, letting the sourness of unfair treatment fill her belly. Maybe she lashed out first to keep meanness at bay. She took the idea one logical step forward; it might be time to stop. With a sigh of her own, she relaxed and rested her head against the side of the carriage.

She had no sense of time passing until she felt the spring sun high overhead. But that wasn’t what woke her.

The carriage had come to an abrupt halt. Catalina opened her eyes to see Chato the coachman through the small opening, but only dimly, because the overhang of the carriage roof was in shadow.

The shadow moved and she saw a knife sticking out of Chato’s neck. The shadow moved again and she saw a horseman, the cause of the shadow, beside the carriage now. She put her hand just above Paloma’s mouth and patted her arm.

“Something is happening,” she whispered.

Paloma opened her eyes and her own hand went immediately to her sleeping son in his cradle at her feet. She sat up carefully and sucked in her breath when she saw how the coachman leaned.

Both women clung together when the carriage door slammed open and a bearded man with dead eyes leaned inside. To their astonishment, he opened his mouth wide and his eyes wider and slammed the door shut. They listened to shouts of “Idiot! Fool! A mistake!”

Juanito began to stir and whimper. Paloma picked him up and hastily unbuttoned her camisa, nursing him to keep him silent.

“Eckapeta and I … we train the little ones not to cry,” she whispered, her blue eyes huge in her pale face. “Juanito is too young for such a lesson.” She bowed her head over her child, trying to feed him and protect him at the same time.

The pitiful gesture went straight to Catalina’s heart and shoved back her own fears. She reached for Paloma, as vulnerable now as a woman could ever be, and patted her shoulder.

“I’m going to find out what’s going on,” Catalina whispered, as she wondered at her sudden wellspring of bravery.

With amazing clarity, she knew someone had to protect Paloma and her baby, and there wasn’t anyone else around except her. For years her father had depended on her—perhaps too much—but that was nothing compared to this need, growing stronger by the second, to help someone even more vulnerable.

“I do this for you, Marco,” Catalina whispered under her breath.

Gypsy Baron, by Bestselling Author Mary Daheim: A half-Gypsy Nobleman Falls for a Court Lady

gypsy_baronGypsy Baron ($14.95, 212 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-371-6) is a reprint of an early historical romance by bestselling author Mary Daheim. Originally published in 1992, Gypsy Baron features the son of a nobleman and a gypsy whose allegiance to his war-torn homeland of Bohemia stands in the way of committing to the woman he loves. She is a nobleman’s daughter whose ill-fated engagement to an accused conspirator forces her to live in exile. Much of the story centers around the brief reign of Elizabeth Stuart as Queen of Bohemia in 1619. Elizabeth was the daughter of James I of England and wife of Frederick V, Elector Palatine. She was known as “The Winter Queen,” her husband as “The Winter King.”

** Click the cover image to order the 6×9 paperback online **

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With the release of Gypsy Baron, Camel Press has reprinted all seven of Mary Daheim’s historical romances. The other titles are Reunion (original titled Pride’s Captive), The Royal Mile (originally Love’s Pirate), Gosford’s Daughter (originally Passion’s Triumph), Destiny’s Pawn, King’s Ransom, and Improbable Eden.

“Mary Daheim’s novels are a rare treat for the lovers of deeply detailed, highly historical love stories that bring history to vibrant life.”

Romantic Times

Darkly handsome Stefan Dvorak, Baron Ostrov, is the son of a gypsy and a venerable but disgraced Bohemian nobleman. Though educated at Oxford and welcomed by King James’s court, Stefan is a wanderer by nature and not inclined to take love seriously. But he has never met anyone like the innocent and dazzling Lady Katherine de Vere, who is mourning the death of the man she hoped to marry: Henry, Prince of Wales.

Despite their powerful attraction, neither Stefan nor Kat is free. The king decrees that Kat must marry a preening prig named Sir Thomas Overbury. She escapes the odious union, only to face a worse fate. After Sir Thomas falls afoul of the king’s toadies and dies of poison in the Tower of London, his enemies cast the blame on Kat. Threatened with prison, she flees first to Heidelberg and then to Prague.

Stefan’s allegiance to his homeland of Bohemia, torn between Catholic and Protestant factions on the brink of war, trumps any notions of domestic bliss. Though he loves his little Kat, what can a penniless Gypsy baron offer a genteel aristocrat? And Kat has her own troubles. Not only does a cloud still hang over her name, but the king has threatened to confiscate her ancestral home.

Says the author, “Gypsy. The word evokes a wagon-load of images. Fortune tellers. Caravans. Gaudy, jangling jewelry. Stealthy flights by night. Gyp—a pejorative derivation. But wait—there’s more. Romance. Music. Dancing. Mystery. For a writer, what’s not to like?”

Mary Richardson Daheim, a Seattle native, began her publishing career with the first of seven historical romances before switching to mysteries in 1991. Since then she has published at least 55 books. Click here to find her online. For more information about these historical romances, please like the Facebook page for these historical romance titles.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Kat gasped as Dvorak grabbed her by the shoulders, snapping her head back. “Don’t ever speak so of the Roms! My mother was a Gypsy, as good and virtuous as the fine English lady who bore you!” One hand swung up, then his mouth clamped shut and he dropped his arm at his side. “You’re a fool, Katherine de Vere,” he said, his face wooden but his eyes flashing. “Like most of the English, you’re a smug, ignorant boor.”

Kat’s temper was boiling, but her mind was a blank. He was a brute, a savage, a half-breed foreigner with nothing to his credit but an Oxford education. “If you think so little of English ways, why ever did you come here?” she demanded.

An odd, pained expression crossed Dvorak’s face. “You heard Milord Essex. I am not welcome in my own country. I had nowhere else to go,” he said, and his voice sounded hollow. Strange, he thought, that Kat’s opinion should matter. She was of no importance to him, merely a silly wench he’d met at a state funeral. He grabbed her wrist with his other hand, pulling her so close that her breasts brushed his doublet. It would do no good to try to shake sense into the chit. She was too obtuse, too self-righteous, too English. “I told you,” he said curtly, “you don’t understand.” The black eyes glittered with anger, and for a brief moment Kat thought he might actually strike her. Instead, his lips came down on hers in a crushing kiss. Kat reeled with the sensation of that hard mouth on her lips. This was not at all like Henry’s gentle embrace, soft and sweet as morning rain. She tried to escape, but his arm was at her back, holding her captive. In the pit of her stomach, an alien sensation welled up, muddling her brain and stirring her senses. Kat was afraid, and at the same time exhilarated. She wasn’t entirely aware that her lips were responding to Stefan’s as if they had a will of their own.

Abruptly, with the anger still in his veins, he let her go. Kat momentarily lost her balance, falling backward against a stone wall. Stunned, she searched his face, hazily noting that while his annoyance hadn’t faded, the dark eyes had softened. With a sigh of vexation, Stefan shook his head.

“Excuse me. That was a foolish action. A good shaking would have served as well.” He was aware of the rough edge in his voice and inwardly cursed himself. Impulse was not his way with women; passionate interludes were carefully calculated, based on mutual consent. Stefan felt like an unruly schoolboy.

Kat swallowed hard and tried to regain her composure. “I’m not a trifle,” she declared, sounding quite lame. “My upbringing has not accustomed me to such … dalliance.”

For a brief moment Dvorak looked as if he might smile, but he did not. “No,” he said flatly. “That’s clear.” With a little bow, he strode away from her, up the path toward the palace.

Kat stayed in the garden, not wanting to follow for fear of further confrontation. Stefan Dvorak had no right to kiss her, especially in anger. Indeed, no honorable man should kiss any virtuous woman except as part of courtship. His behavior was as inexplicable as it was unsettling. Along the torchlit path, Kat felt the first soft drops of rain. She must go in, as soon as Dvorak was out of sight. Tentatively, she touched her mouth. It felt bruised. It felt wonderful. Kat didn’t understand the conflicting emotions. Slowly, she walked up the path, shivering with cold. Yet inside she felt quite warm.

Deadly Spirits, by E. Michael Helms: A “Ghost” with a Bone to Pick

deadly_spiritsDeadly Spirits ($15.95, 266 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-349-5) is the fourth book in a mystery/thriller series by E. Michael Helms featuring private eye Mac McClellan. After Mac joins a paranormal society whose members are falling victim to a deadly run of bad luck, he begins his search for a flesh-and-blood villain.

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

Coming soon: Book 5, Deadly Verse.

Deadly Spirits is a fine mystery where readers will have to reach the end before finding the answers to all the murderous questions afoot. And readers will be extra happy when they get to that final page and realize that their guesses were completely wrong. Prepare yourself for a whole lot of action and a big revelation during a storm, as a killer is delivered that you will never forget.”

—Reviewed by Mary Lignor, Professional Librarian and Co-Owner of The Write Companion for Suspense Magazine

5 Stars: “I really like Mac. I admire his discipline and bravery. Adore his affection for his dog [….] And he’s quite the ladies man. Though he’s not fooled by a pretty cover. He’s just as likely to open a ladies door as to grill her when he suspects something fishy. And he doesn’t stray from his lady love. Mac knows a good thing when he’s got it. The author gives you a wide variety of suspects and more than one mystery to solve. He puts you in the setting, feeling the humidity of the southern air, smelling the fishy scent of the ocean, and hearing the calls of the soaring gulls. [….] If you’re looking for a fun detective series with a great storyline, look no further.”  Read more….

—FU Only Knew Blog

5 Stars: “I loved everything about Deadly Spirits by E Michael Helms. He has included a lot of extras besides the mystery… a critter to fall in love with, a dash of the psychotic and a pinch of the paranormal…a recipe for success. I love Mac and this is my favorite adventure … so far. Michael has brought him a long way, making him more complex in his simplicity. I can hardly wait for more!”  Read more….

—Fundimental Blog

5 Stars: “This is a great mystery, I didn’t know the who or why of the murderer until the end. I did have a couple guesses that were completely wrong. And then there was lots of action and of course a big reveal during a hurricane. Talk about delivering the killer with a bang. I love Mr. Helm’s mysteries. The Mac McClellan mysteries are wonderful, easy to get into, and filled with lots to keep you on the edge of your seat. Make sure to check them out.”  Read more….

—J. Bronder Books

Deadly Spirits is a haunting mystery with an ingenious plot, vivid setting and memorable characters, chief among them the incomparable Mac McClellan, who is easily one of my favorite PIs out there. This latest installment will satisfy fans of the series while sending newcomers scrambling to catch up. If you like Robert Crais and Harlan Coben, you’ll surely dig Deadly Spirits. I know I did. Highly recommended.”

—Max Everhart, author of the Eli Sharpe Mystery series; SHAMUS Award finalist, Split to Splinters

“Fasten your seat belt! Deadly Spirits is a roller coaster ride of murder, blackmail and kidnapping, with some evil and not so evil spirits in the mix. Mac McClellan finds his own life at risk in this deftly-plotted thriller when he decides to investigate a puzzling death, a death that ultimately leads him into the past to seek the solution to a long unsolved cold case. You’ll be burning the midnight oil with Mac’s latest adventure!”

—Connie di Marco, author of the Zodiac Mysteries, and as Connie Archer, author of the national bestselling Soup Lover’s Mysteries

“Helms scores again! Deadly Spirits seamlessly pulls PI Mac McClellan, and the reader, between the physical and the supernatural planes. The tough, retired Marine must overcome his skepticism to solve two present-day murders, and bring closure to a third from the past. This is a softer, more human, Mac than we’ve met before. One more willing to suspend his beliefs for sacrifices only the heart can make. You won’t put this book down until the last page.”

—Kait Carson, author of the Hayden Kent Mysteries and the Catherine Swope Mysteries

Deadly Spirits can be read as a standalone, but fans of the Mac McClellan series will recognize many familiar faces from previous books, including Mac’s sassy girlfriend Kate, smart-mouthed Deputy Dakota Owens, as well as Mac’s trusty Doberman Henry. A fast and thrilling read for mystery lovers, with plenty of twists to keep you guessing! Highly recommended.”  Read more….

—Epic Book Quest

5 Stars: “Hardboiled and flip on the outside, softhearted and a good ol’ boy on the inside, Mac McClellan is to private investigators what grit is to sandpaper: tough and abrasive, able to grind away the lies and deceit to uncover the truth.”  Read more….

—Dianne Bylo, Tome Tender Reviews

“Persistent and endearing, PI Mac McClellan is hot on the trail of another crime; but is the murderer flesh and blood, or from the other side? I can’t get enough of this guy!”

—A.K. Klemm, author of The Bookshop Hotel and Lilly Hollow

When PI Mac McClellan’s girlfriend convinces him to join the Palmetto Paranormal Society, he becomes embroiled in a case of whooodunnit. The society president, while investigating an old hotel, is found dead at the foot of the stairwell, his neck broken. The man’s secretary and current squeeze stands horrified beside his body. Authorities rule the death an accident. Mac has doubts—no one heard the man tumbling down the stairs. Then the secretary dies in an apparent suicide. Two deaths in two paranormal investigations, and not a peep out of either victim. Mac suspects there’s more going on than a vengeful spirit.

Says Helms, “In 1897 a Greenbrier, West Virginia, man was convicted of murdering his wife on the testimony the victim’s mother received from her deceased daughter’s ghost. True story. The famous ‘Greenbrier Ghost’ case planted the ‘what if’ seed in my head. What if a decades-old homicide was directly tied to a modern case of blackmail, deceit, and murder, and the evidence came from beyond the grave? Thus Deadly Spirits was born.”

Michael Helms grew up in Panama City, Florida. His memoir about serving in the Marines as a rifleman during some of the heaviest fighting of the Vietnam War, The Proud Bastards, remains in print after twenty-five years, and he recently published a fictional sequel, The Private War of Corporal Henson. A longtime Civil War buff, Helms is also the author of the historical saga, Of Blood and Brothers. Helms lives in South Carolina with his wife Karen. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

I pulled my digital recorder out of another pocket and pressed the “on” button. Remembering Kate’s lesson that it’s better to place the recorder on something stable rather than hold it, I set it on an upended wooden crate a few feet away.

“You in here, Captain?”

Silence.

“Are you the one who was smoking a pipe around here?”

Still no response.

“I’ve got some fine Scotch with me. You can have a snort if you give me a sign.”

Silence again.

“It’s real good stuff. The Dalmore, twelve-year-old Highland single malt.”

Evidently whoever was haunting the storage building wasn’t a Scotch connoisseur.

“If there’s anybody in here, make yourself known. Give me a sign … light your pipe. Knock on the wall, or—”

Something slid and thumped along the back wall. Chills raced down my spine as I hopped up, switched on the flashlight, and shined it toward the sound. An old shovel that had been standing on its blade balanced against the wall now lay at an angle against a barrel missing several staves. I caught my breath and waited for the adrenaline rush to subside, relieved that nobody was with me to witness my reaction to the noise. “You chickenshit,” I muttered.

I sat back down and took a few deep breaths. After a couple of minutes I heard more rustling coming from the same general area. This time I grabbed my phone and snapped several blind pictures, hoping to capture something I couldn’t see in the darkness. I checked the photos and felt the hair rise on my arms as a couple of blood-red eyes stared back at me. Okay, enough of this ghost crap, I thought, after calling myself a few more choice names. It was time for the assault.

With the flashlight in one hand and my phone in the other, I stood up for a showdown. “Come out, come out, wherever you are, spook,” I said as I worked my way between obstacles, keeping a wary eye out for rattlers. “Let’s me and you have a little talk about—”

A big raccoon bolted out of nowhere, almost running headlong into me as he brushed my leg and shot out the door. I stumbled backward into some shelving that gave way. Rusty cans and dusty boxes tumbled onto my head, shoulders, and chest, landing on the worn plank floor. I’d barely caught my breath when one of the objects moved, changed shape, and started buzzing. Christ on a crutch—rattlesnake!

I don’t believe in levitation, but I have no recollection of running out of the shed. One minute I was inside with a coiled, pissed-off diamondback at my feet, and the next thing I knew I was outside, bent over, and gasping for breath.

And that’s when I heard the scream.

The Spirit in St. Louis, by Mark Everett Stone: Book 6 in the From the Files of the BSI Series

Spirit_LouisThe Spirit in St. Louis ($15.95, 304 pages, ISBN: 978-1-60381-256-6) is Book 6 in Mark Everett Stone’s popular urban fantasy series featuring a super-agent employed by the Bureau of Supernatural Investigation. In this episode Kal is sent to St. Louis, Missouri, to battle an evil ghost bent on destroying humanity. Next up: Talladega Nightmares.

“A suspenseful dark fantasy saga. A balance between psychological intrigue, menacing chills and fierce resistance, The Spirit in St. Louis is a page-turner from cover to cover. Highly recommended!”  Read more….

—Jack Mason (Mason’s Bookshelf), Midwest Book Review

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Omaha Stakes: “Action-packed…. Kal’s frolic through a nifty supernatural world is enjoyable.” —Publishers Weekly

Chicago, The Windigo City is jam packed with action but the heart of the story is Kal’s love and concern for his girlfriend and his best friend …. An original and refreshing tale.” —Fresh Fiction

I Left My Haunt in San Francisco is lively and smart. It is packed with action and just enough goop and gore to please fans of the genre without turning away newcomers to this subset of modern fantasy demon-busting…. It is just great, grand fun.” —ForeWord Reviews

What Happens in Vegas, Dies in Vegas: “A cracking good yarn from first to final page, no question…. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up for a job well and properly done.” —The Latinum Vault

Things to do in Denver When You’re Un-Dead: “I have really enjoyed reading this book…. The story could just be one of guns, blood and guts and magic, but…. Mark Everett Stone has made these characters seem real.” —Fantasy Book Review

Mark has also written a novella in the series, Oil’s Not Well in Odessa.

The audiobook versions of the From the Files of the BSI books are produced by Books in Motion.

Mark’s first novel, Things to Do in Denver When You’re Un-Dead, won the second place Forward Literature Award for Humor and was on the shortlist of ForeWord Magazine’s debut fiction award, ForeWord Firsts. The Judas Line was a finalist in ForeWord’s Book of the Year Awards and earned a starred review in Publishers Weekly.

The whole world now knows of the existence of the World Under, thanks to fallout from the terrible events in Omaha a year back. As the World Under’s most effective foe, Kal Hakala performed actions that were both heroic and horrific. Now, sidelined as an Agent, he serves the Bureau of Supernatural Investigation as its public face, charming talk show hosts and training new recruits known as “Green Peas.”

However, the World Under never rests, and events force Kal back into action. A malevolent spirit occupies St. Louis’s Quint Building, and the team sent in to combat it disappears after their leader is driven to suicide. The BSI has no choice but to send in Kalevi Hakala and his team to solve the problem. As each of the individual members of Kal’s team is isolated and dumped into his or her private hell, Kal begins to wonder if he hasn’t finally met his match: the most powerful force the World Under has to offer.

Born in Helsinki, Finland, Mark Everett Stone arrived in the U.S. at a young age and promptly dove into the world of the fantastic. Starting at age seven with The Iliad and The Odyssey, he went on to consume every scrap of Norse Mythology he could get his grubby little paws on. At age thirteen he graduated to Tolkien and Heinlein, building up a book collection that soon rivaled the local public library’s. In college Mark majored in Journalism and minored in English. Mark lives in California with his wife, Brandie, and their two sons, Aeden and Gabriel. Click here to find him on the Web.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“Where to, boss?’ This came from Rat, who still looked mighty pale from popping a dead man’s eyeball into his mouth. To be honest, that freaked me out more than the shrieking gray/red orb that about busted my eardrums. Got to give the man credit; he might be a pervert, but he had balls. No pun intended.

A recollection surfaced. “You were about to say something concerning what Sixer saw before he died.”

“Oh, yeah. Guess so. In all the commotion I completely forgot.” Rat licked his lips and looked around as if suddenly nervous, which unsettled me a little. “Sixer wasn’t in the buildin’; he was in a swamp.” Rat held up his hands before I could interrupt. “Look, I know how crazy that sounds—a swamp and all in the middle of the Quint Building—but there were trees all around and water and Spanish moss hanging from branches. That’s what Sixer saw, or was made to see.”

Keeping Dove shut up turned out to be harder than I thought. “That’s crazy,” she blurted.

Rat got all defensive. “I saw what I saw. And that’s what Sixer saw. It was me with the eyeball in my mouth, Jacobs. You wanna give it a try?”

Enough of that. “Settle down, kids. Form up on my six and—”

EEEHHKK!!!!

A knife through both ears and into my brain, fire along my nerves and needles in my eyes—pain like I haven’t felt since a crazed cop in San Francisco took a drill to my kneecaps. I hit the deck because my legs refused to respond. Distantly I heard rounds firing off and I hoped whoever it was hit the ugly orb that once again hung over us, flinging gouts of reddish mist that floated like cotton candy in the air. All I could think was not again.

The screaming grew louder and louder, and I added my own shrieks because this was worse than last time—worse than anything else. Before I passed out, all I saw was red and gray.