Welcome to the tour for genre-blurring novel, LO by Bradford Tatum. Read on for more details!
Publication Date: June 7, 2022
Genre: Sci-Fi/ Noir Thriller
Publisher: Soft Moon Press
Willoughby, known back on Earth as “the East Hamptons of the Kuiper Belt,” is the first sustainable colony on Mars.
Built by the mysterious geneticist Carlo Yakamura this settlement encourages the rich to live as they please. They can enjoy decadent homes, physically modifiable partners, meals based on their best memories and even boutique children known on Willoughby as Builds.
Designed to impress even at the dullest cocktail parties, the Builds’ proprietary motive genes have been sourced from the DNA of some of the greatest artistic disruptors of the last several centuries. But even among a host of uniquely gifted Builds, Lo is unique. And uniquely unbalanced. So what would be the grisliest of murders back on Earth, is just an inconvenience on Willoughby. That is why Lo is sent to be “seasoned” by a man we come to know only as Cook.
Can Cook’s fatherly hand guide Lo to a deeper understanding of his potential and purpose or is Lo’s innate power destined to destroy all of Willoughby? Is Lo the key to Cook’s creative redemption or is he the cause of Cook’s worst nightmares? And once Cook learns the true purpose of Yakamura’s Willoughby will Lo or Cook find the colony worth saving at all?
LO is a sci-fi noir thriller, painted in more deeper shades of blue than black. It is also a story of fathers and sons, lost to one another through terrible compromises and found again through the limits of love. It is a parable of our possible future, a future that is doomed if we rely only on the digital representation of our present while forgetting the lessons and lore of our analogue past.
Bradford Tatum’s award winning debut novel I Can Only Give You Everything was published in 2010. His second novel, Only the Dead Know Burbank was published by HarperCollins in 2016 and received a starred review from Publisher’s Weekly. His book Gray Matters has been used as a text book in various college business communication courses.
Bradford began his career as an actor appearing in numerous television shows and movies such as 20th Century Fox’s submarine comedy DOWN PERISCOPE, Disney’s POWDER and HBO’s WESTWORLD.
He was a staff writer for Dick Wolf on the NBC series DEADLINE and has written and directed two award winning independent features. He has won an Alfred P. Sloan grant for his written work as well as sold pitches to various production companies.
An abandoned house. A forgotten evil. Home sweet home…
Shane Ryan returns to Nashua and the childhood memories that drove him to join the Marines. After a prolonged legal battle with his aunt and uncle, Shane has possession of the family home where his parents disappeared over 20 years ago. The house, a monstrous castle filled with ghosts and secrets, is more alive than its inhabitants.
When his aunt and uncle come to town, then vanish, Shane’s life takes a turn for the worse. Detective Marie Lafontaine immediately labels Shane as the prime suspect. And in a race against time, Shane desperately searches for clues about his parents.
But there’s something lurking beyond the walls and beneath the surface. Something sinister that has haunted him ever since he saw its face in the pond behind the house. And it isn’t happy that Shane is back.
If you’re a fan of Stephen King’s Rose Red, you’re going to love Berkeley Street! Supernatural horror at its finest.
Mystery. Good ghosts. Deadly spirits. And friends in unlikely places. Be prepared for a spooktacular adventure. However, once you start reading, you won’t want to stop. You’ll end up reading the entire series. — I did!
*Disclaimer: I purchased/borrowed this boook from Amazon. Neither the author nor publisher requested a review.
Happy publication day to Kate Anslinger! Check out her new book Chasing Ghosts (A Grace McKenna Mystery Novel)!
Chasing Ghosts (A Grace McKenna Mystery Novel)
Publication Date: June 1st, 2022
Genre: Mystery/ Thriller
What would you do if you could see haunting images in a criminal’s eyes?
Detective Grace McKenna’s mother has always told her that she has a gift.
When she looks into a criminal’s eyes she can see haunting images of victims who have been wronged.
One of those visions is the face of Jenny Silva, a high school art teacher who has gone missing from the small town of Bridgeton, Massachusetts, where Grace works.
When she makes eye contact with the possible suspect, Jenny’s tortured face flashes before Grace, leaving an unsettling imprint on her.
Grace finds herself making tough decisions to solve a case on her own, where she stumbles across town secrets and gets mixed up in an unlikely love affair.
Sometimes a wrong can find a way to be righted all on its own!
Will Grace be able to solve this case on her own?
A set of beady blue eyes overpowering the face of a teenage girl tore Grace from the present moment. The girl’s mouth was contorted into an angry frown emphasized by black lipstick that matched her shoulder-length straight black hair. The skin on her chin and right cheek was dotted in bumps and covered in varying shades of red as if she had tried to cover up teenage acne. Her neck and collar bone area were covered in blue and red blotches that looked like fingerprints pressed into her skin. A black winter hat with a white bat was pulled down to her eyebrows, enhancing the eyeliner that dipped in smudges beneath her eyes. The dead ends of her hair sprouted out the bottom of the hat and hit the collar of a black and white flannel shirt. Her face, filled with fright, transformed into an Edvard Munch Scream print upon an orange and red wavy background.
A new instinct kicked in and without thought, Grace’s hand went straight to her stomach, holding it like she was protecting a glass snow globe from falling to the floor and shattering. And as soon as she recognized how she had executed a mama bear’s intuition naturally and without a second thought, it dawned on her just how challenging motherhood would be. The baby that was rapidly growing in her womb would always come between her and the victims.
If Charlotte noticed alarm on Grace’s face, she didn’t show it. Instead, she smiled and tilted her head to the side, introducing the woman next to her. “Amy, this is Grace, we met by the bathroom. And we just happen to be a couple weeks apart in our pregnancies.”
A marked pause interrupted the space between them before Amy spoke. With a shifty gaze, Amy’s eyes rose from Grace’s shoes all the way up to her hairline. “It’s nice to meet you, Grace.” Her words ended in a hiss as she dropped a pair of crossed hands on a set of crossed legs decorated in pressed khaki pants. A pale blue cashmere sweater held tight to her perky breasts and was offset by a crisp white collar that peeked out the top like bird wings. Her posture was awkwardly erect, as if she was one of those mannequins strategically placed in department stores, free of any natural slump.
Naturally, Grace was inquisitive about the connection between the two women. Amy looked too young to be Charlotte’s mother, but too old to be a supportive friend accompanying her to her appointment. An older sister? A cousin? Whoever Amy was, Grace was now aware that the woman was responsible for the harm of the teenage girl who showed herself in the vision. Just as the conspicuous silence following the introduction was about to get awkward, a nurse emerged from the hallway and called out a name. Grace turned to see an older woman in the pale pink scrub uniform, haircut and highlighted in a style that was popular in the mid-nineties, when Jennifer Aniston set the example with long, face-framing layers. The nurse scanned the room, and with some force behind her voice she tried again. “Charlotte Anderson.”
“Well, that’s me.” Charlotte started to push herself up off the chair, until Amy hopped up and reached an arm across her back, guiding her to an upright position until she was face to face with Grace.
“Easy there, Charlotte. Precious cargo.” Grace stepped out of the way as Amy guided Charlotte to the nurse, like a mother ushering her toddler. As the connected duo passed by, Grace recognized the embarrassment that had come to the surface on Charlotte’s face.
“I’ll see you around and if I don’t, good luck with your pregnancy.” Charlotte swiveled her head, locking eyes with Grace as Amy continued to shepherd her down the hall, keeping the two of them at a snail’s pace.
“You too.” Grace waved a hand, committing Amy’s silhouette to memory.
Kate Anslinger is the author of the McKenna Mystery novels, a series that follows Detective Grace McKenna on her spree of secretly solving crimes with the help of her gift to see clues in the eyes of criminals. In addition to her life as a novelist, Kate is a ghostwriter, editor, freelance writer and a veteran of the United States Air Force. Her debut novel Saving Jason, touches upon the struggles of PTSD, a topic that is near and dear to her heart. Kate lives on the North Shore of Boston with her husband, two daughters, and Newfoundland pup.
Two teenage girls on the run with fake IDs and a beater car…what could go wrong?
Emmy has always been impulsive. She is no longer a minor and has aged out of foster care. When her best friend, Amber, is the target of a perverted uncle who lives in the basement of her group home, they plan her escape.
They head for Canada, where Amber will be safe, and the foster care system can no longer control their lives. When they come across a whitewater rafting brochure, they decide to take a detour for one last adventure before leaving the country. Emmy and Amber have no idea it will be a decision that will forever change their fates.
The rafting town is so far in the middle of nowhere that Emmy’s car radio catches nothing but static. They consider turning around until a truck pulls up, loaded with hot whitewater rafting guides and rubber rafts–just the fun they were looking for. Ignoring every instinct, they turn off the pavement and follow the truck down an isolated dirt road. They end up in Lodell, the town where a girl went missing the previous summer…and she will not be the last.
I decided I wanted to be a writer when I was pregnant with my youngest child. Between raising three kids and teaching myself how to write, it took me forever–but I never gave up. I got my first book published when he was twenty-two years old.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
I usually know the main characters, but others come to me as I write.
What kind of research do you do before you begin writing a book?
At the beginning, I do a lot of preliminary research. As I add new things, I research more. I am a stickler for accuracy. If someone is familiar with guiding, and I represent something wrong, it will pull them from the book. One time, I had a character look up at the night sky in August in San Diego, 1935. I got star charts and made sure the constellation she saw was visible at that location on that date and time of night. I know that is a bit obsessive, but what can I say? I also have content editors review my novel before I publish it. For DEAD DRIFT, I had it edited by a young woman who grew up in foster care, a sergeant from the sheriff’s department, two river guides (one male and one female), and another author who grew up fly fishing in the area I wrote about.
Do you see writing as a career?
It is a dream career for me. I hope I can earn enough to write full-time. I have so many ideas, just not enough writing time.
What do you think about the current publishing market?
I think the market is shifting, and there are so many unknowns. I think the indie market is taking off, and writers do not have to rely on traditional publishing anymore. Indie publishing is a lot of work, but it also allows people without connections in the publishing industry to get their awesome books out there.
Do you read yourself and if so what is your favorite genre?
I love historical fiction and thrillers, both of which I write.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
I prefer to write in silence. The voices in my head are enough for me.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
I have several “in process,” but I usually focus on one at a time.
Pen or type writer or computer?
I write on the computer. I used to write in the computer and print it out to edit. I now edit directly on the computer. I use Scrivener software, and that makes it easy.
A day in the life of the author?
I get up at 4:00 and write for about three hours before work. After work, I may do some research, walk my dog, do something with friends or family, or work on my marketing. Since I am a teacher, I have summers to camp, hike, and fish. The funny thing is that I get much more writing done during the school year than I do over the summer. Maybe because the weather in Oregon is rainy in the winter, or maybe because of the strict schedule.
Do you have any advice to offer for new authors?
Butt in the seat. Whether you feel like writing or not, put your butt in the seat every day. You may only get a few paragraphs written, but they add up.
Describe your writing style.
I’ve heard writers described as plotters or pantsers. Plotters make outlines, and pantsers write by the seat of their pants. I am a plotter. I’ve done extensive plotting, and I’ve created basic outlines. I’m someone who needs a direction to go. I find freedom in at least having an outline. I know what needs to happen, and I can focus on that one plot point. Once, I tried being a pantser…after staring at a blank screen for fifteen minutes without a single idea of what to write, I made an outline.
What makes a good story?
Dynamic characters, a setting that is almost like another character, and a plot that forces the characters to grow.
What are you currently reading?
I’ve been reading Lucy Foley and Catherine Ryan Howard.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
My family. They are a loved Kryptonite, but I cannot write when they are awake. I don’t want to miss my time with them. I was able to write with my daughter when she was little because she would sit with me doing her art, and I did not feel like I was neglecting her. Plus, we would take a break for a nice lunch together.
Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?
I try to be true to the story with the reader in mind.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
I believe in things getting in the way of my writing and losing focus. When I have what could be considered writer’s block, I sit down to write anyway. I open a new document and a published novel. I type word-for-word what is in the novel. I usually choose one written from the same point of view of my work in progress. By doing this, I get in the flow of writing. After a page or two, I close the document and open my own manuscript.
Kelly Romo grew up in California but has lived in Oregon for over twenty-five years. She teaches writing, literature, and social studies. She is the mother of three grown children: Brittany, Brennan, and Ryan. She is an avid outdoorswoman who loves to kayak, hike, and fish.
Welcome to the book tour for Terry Tyler’s latest novel! A thriller called Where There’s Doubt. Read on for more info!
Where There’s Doubt
Publication Date: March 24th, 2022
Genre: Psychological Thriller/ Drama
‘I can be anything you want me to be. Even if you don’t know you want it. Especially if you don’t know you want it.’
Café owner Kate is mentally drained after a tough two years; all she wants from her online chess partner is entertainment on lonely evenings, and maybe a little virtual flirtation.
She is unaware that Nico Lewis is a highly intelligent con artist who, with an intricately spun web of lies about their emotional connection, will soon convince her that he is The One.
Neither does Kate know that his schemes involve women who seek love on dating sites, as well as his small publishing business. A host of excited authors believe Nico is about to make their dreams come true.
Terry Tyler’s twenty-fourth publication is a sinister psychological drama that highlights the dark side of internet dating—and the danger of ignoring the doubts of your subconscious.
“Nico is a romance scammer, and this excerpt is from his point of view.”
After the barbecue weekend with Kate I do an impromptu ‘just had to see you’ overnight with Heather because she’s been acting rather strangely via text, and I can’t risk her getting pissed off with me. I take her roses, and on the spur of the moment I come up with a story about my cousin Dieter (Dieter? Weird name choice, brain!) who throws the best New Year’s Eve parties.
“Low key, just an incredible dinner with a selected few. He’s got a stupidly big house in the Northamptonshire countryside—we could stay there, make a weekend of it.”
I chose a date six months away to demonstrate my commitment, but now I wonder if it might be an idea to start talking spring breaks for next year, too. I need to get her up to speed, because she’ll be the first hit—got to be, because her house will need to be sold. Andrew, our tame estate agent, is well in with a couple of property developer types who are always looking at places like Heather’s to flip, so we’re fairly confident of a quick cash sale, but obviously we can’t rest on our laurels. I leave the sales side to Andrew. Might as well get all I can out of him in return for his eventual pay-off.
He’s getting ten grand—he wants to quit his job and go backpacking.
I leave Heather on Wednesday, and speed straight to Diss to up the pace with Polly. Down on one knee, the whole works. The ring is white gold with a pear shaped aquamarine, set off with tiny diamonds. One thousand, two hundred and fifty pounds, paying for it on credit; we’ll need make a couple of payments so as not to draw attention to ourselves. Em thought it was better to go down this road than the ‘used to be my mother’s’ story, with some piece of old tat from a pawn shop; Polly’s exactly the type who would take her new engagement ring to be valued.
I don’t want to think about the night I was forced to endure after the proposal; my acting powers were stretched to breaking point, never mind my restraint. Before we went to bed, she insisted we stand in front of the mirror to practice corny wedding photo poses.
“Come on, it’ll be a giggle!” she said. That’s how she talks. Calls a drink a ‘tipple’, and refers to watching romcoms and eating cake as ‘guilty pleasures’. She has plenty of the latter, usually pink iced cupcakes. Oh, and then there’s her great friend the universe. She believes she won the lottery and met me because she asked the universe to ‘gift her’ with these delights.
“You just have to believe, and reach out to the universe,” she tells me.
It really is that simple. Allegedly. I’ve been asking it for this four million pound yacht I saw on a programme about the Southampton boat show, but it’s ignored me so far.
That night we stood there, me in a t-shirt and boxers, her in a silky, lace-edged ‘champagne’ coloured slip (I’d have called it off-white but she insists the colour is champagne), and she said, “Talk about hashtag blessed! Thank you, Universe!”
She told me about her life philosophy during an early email exchange (except that Polly doesn’t ‘tell’ people about things; she ‘fesses up’). I advised her to be very careful what she tells strangers on the internet, because there are a lot of unscrupulous characters out there. She took this as an indication of how much I care for her. You couldn’t make it up, could you?
I’ve had to weather a few meetings with her mother, too, but happily she fancies me as well, and can’t wait to welcome me into the family.
Of course, Polly being Polly, as soon as I proposed it became all about the wedding plans. The venue. The guest list. Buffet or sit-down meal? A themed wedding, perhaps? Okay by me; she was so excited about her new project that she was happy just to sit up in bed chattering away, which gave me a rest. Just when I thought I might have to put a pillow over her face and apply pressure, she got out her laptop and announced that she’d had a wonderful idea.
“A boutique hotel!”
“Qu’est-ce que tu as dit, chéri?” She likes it when I ‘talk French’. It’s ‘so romantic’.
Terry Tyler is a writer of post-apocalyptic, dystopian and dark psychological fiction, and currently has 24 books published on Amazon.
When not busy writing she reads a great deal (she is a member of Rosie Amber’s Book Review Team), blogs about TV, writing and any random stuff that pops into her head, likes going for walks in the countryside and takes too many photos of trees. She loves history, Twitter, clever observational humour and is moderately obsessed with post-apocalyptic scenarios generally, and The Walking Dead. Terry lives with her husband in the north east of England.
When all goes dark, they’re left alone. As starvation provokes chaos, can one man defend all he holds dear?
Sunspots, Al-Qaeda, North Korea—no one knows why the power goes out in sleepy little Harpursville, how much of the world is affected, or how long it will last. In one instant virtually every modern convenience stops working, leaving the townspeople scrambling.
For Kevin Barton, the problem is compounded by the presence of his sixteen-year-old daughter’s best friend, Dina, who’s been stranded at the house after yet another sleepover. When Kevin’s attempt to escort Dina home ends in robbery and humiliation, their “second daughter’s” overnight visit becomes a permanent stay. Kevin doesn’t really mind. Dina helps with everything from hauling water to digging a garden, and she does it with a smile. But with food scarce and hunger eating away at reason, her large appetite and constant presence sets the household on edge, causing a rift between Kevin and his wife, Monica.
Help is offered by the man who stops Harpursville from sliding into everyone-for-themselves chaos but then he gives Kevin an unthinkable ultimatum. With the peace of the town and Kevin’s own family hanging in the balance, he faces a two-front war. Can Kevin find the power in himself to protect everything he holds dear?
Buy Powerless to shine a light on darkness today!
“A poignant, elegantly written, gripping book that delves deep into an all-too-possible future. You won’t be able to put this down. O’Handley is brilliant and masterful. One of the best books I’ve ever read.” – Lisa Regan, USA Today & Wall Street Journal best-selling author
Jeff O’Handley has been a science and technical writer as part of his job since the late 1980’s, but fiction is his passion. This talented and insightful author provides depth to his characters and explores their stories in a way that can be related to on a very personal level. Jeff can often be found ‘butt-deep in a swamp’ removing invasive species, leading a nature walk in the woods, or promoting recycling as part of his work for a boots-on-the-ground conservation organization. Jeff is a die-hard Boston Bruins fan who loves the outdoors and has a resistance to tech, but grudgingly admits to the usefulness of smartphones and computers. Jeff grew up on Long Island, NY but has embraced the rural life of central New York, where he lives with his wife and two daughters.
We’re celebrating the release of author Arthur Herbert’s latest whodunnit, The Bones of Amoret! Read on for more details and a chance to win a signed copy of the book!
The Bones of Amoret
Publication Date: February 13th, 2022
Genre: Mystery/ Suspense
Amoret, Texas, 1982. Life along the border is harsh, but in a world where cultures work together to carve a living from the desert landscape, Blaine Beckett lives a life of isolation. A transplanted Boston intellectual, for twenty years locals have viewed him as a snob, a misanthrope, an outsider. He seems content to stand apart until one night when he vanishes into thin air amid signs of foul play.
Noah Grady, the town doctor, is a charming and popular good ol’ boy. He’s also a keeper of secrets, both the town’s and his own. He watches from afar as the mystery of Blaine’s disappearance unravels and rumors fly. Were the incipient cartels responsible? Was it a local with a grudge? Or did Blaine himself orchestrate his own disappearance? Then the unthinkable happens, and Noah begins to realize he’s considered a suspect.
Paced like a lit fuse and full of dizzying plot twists, The Bones of Amoret is a riveting whodunit that will keep you guessing all the way to its shocking conclusion.”
Arthur Herbert was born and raised in small town Texas. He worked on offshore oil rigs, as a bartender, a landscaper at a trailer park, and as a social worker before going to medical school. He chose to do a residency in general surgery, followed by a fellowship in critical care and trauma surgery. For the last seventeen years, he’s worked as a trauma and burn surgeon, operating on all ages of injured patients. He continues to run a thriving practice.
In this enigmatic follow up to his critically acclaimed debut novel The Cuts that Cure, Arthur Herbert returns to the Texas-Mexico border with this saga of a small town’s bloody loss of innocence.
Arthur currently lives in New Orleans, with his wife Amy and their dogs. He loves hearing from his readers, so don’t hesitate to email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
During Berlin’s brutally cold winter of 1939, a serial killer stalks the city throughout the Third Reich’s forced nightly blackouts in this chilling WWII crime novel from #1 Sunday Times bestselling author Simon Scarrow—perfect for fans of Babylon Berlin, Philip Kerr’s Berlin Trilogy, Robert Ludlum, Andrew Gross, and William Christie . . .
Berlin 1939. The city is blanketed by snow and ice. In the distance, the rumble of war grows louder. In the shadows, a serial killer rises . . .
As the Nazis tighten their chokehold on the capital, panic and paranoia fester as blackout is rigidly enforced. Every night the city is plunged into an oppressive, suffocating darkness—pitch perfect conditions for unspeakable acts.
When a young woman is found brutally murdered, it’s up to Criminal Inspector Horst Schenke to solve the case quickly. His reputation is already on the line for his failure to join the Nazi Party. If he doesn’t solve the case, the consequences could be fatal.
Schenke’s worst fears are confirmed when a second victim is found. As the investigation takes him deeper into the regime’s darkest corridors, Schenke realizes danger lurks behind every corner—and that the warring factions of the Reich can be as deadly as a killer stalking the streets . . .
“That line between right and wrong gets pretty smudged in this gem of a story. Atmosphere, sharp intrigue, and a host of fascinating characters all combine to make this one the next addition to your keeper shelf.”
—Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author
Simon Scarrow’s passion for writing began at an early age. After a childhood spent travelling the world, he pursued his great love of history as a teacher before becoming a full-time writer. His Roman soldier heroes Cato and Macro made their debut in 2000 in UNDER THE EAGLE, and have subsequently appeared in many bestsellers in the Eagles of the Empire series, including CENTURION, THE GLADIATOR and THE BLOOD OF ROME. Simon’s latest books, BLACKOUT and THE EMPEROR’S EXILE, are out now.
Simon is also the author of the novels YOUNG BLOODS, THE GENERALS, FIRE AND SWORD and THE FIELDS OF DEATH, chronicling the lives of the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte, and of SWORD & SCIMITAR, the epic tale of the 1565 Siege of Malta, and HEARTS OF STONE, set in Greece during the Second World War.
Simon has also co-written with T. J. Andrews three bestselling novels set in the Roman era, ARENA, INVADER and PIRATA.
Writing with Lee Francis, Simon is the author of the contemporary thriller PLAYING WITH DEATH.
This week we are celebrating the release of Betrayed in the Bluegrass by Virginia Slachman. Read on for details and a chance to win a $25 Amazon e-gift card!
Betrayed in the Bluegrass
Publication Date: January 15th, 2022
Genre: Mystery/ Suspense/ Thriller
Lexington Thoroughbred racing’s “power couple” Harper Hill and her husband, Detective JD Cole unite in this, the second in Slachman’s “Bluegrass” horse racing series. When a mysterious man, beaten and tortured, stumbles into the police precinct asking for JD, then dies before he can divulge his secret, a series of events are set in motion that will put the couples’ detecting power to the test and Harper’s life in grave danger. Soon after, Aubrey Lowen, Harper’s second cousin, is found severely beaten by the side of the road. Hospitalized, he hovers between life and death as Harper heads to Keeneland’s backstretch to keep an eye Lowen’s head trainer, Henley Smythe, who seems up to no good. As Harper tries desperately to uncover the culprit and help Aubrey’s wife Millie save their once-successful Thoroughbred farm, a dangerous character from Harper’s past shows up on the backstretch. Amid the dark pool of danger swirling around Harper, JD announces that the Feds have stepped in, preventing the couple from continuing their investigation. Undeterred, the two work under the radar to stop a killer bent on destroying the Lowen legacy and anyone who gets in the way. As murder and greed haunt every step they take, the couple knows that buried deep in Keeneland’s chaos the killer lies in wait—but uncovering the murderer just may cost Harper her life.
Harper had put the past behind her. Or so she thought. Fleeing the flashy, high dollar world of Kentucky horse racing for NYC, she’d been content living the life of a successful painter. But escape isn’t an option after the accidental death of her sister sends her back to the Bluegrass, a horse racing world filled with hope and heartbreak. As the body count rises as Eden Hill, Harper becomes convinced her sister’s death was no accident. Probing more deeply, Harper realizes Paris’ death is tied to a dark and deadly secret, one she discovers is why her racehorses are dying. Solving her sister’s murder and saving her family’s stud farm will take every ounce of Harper’s wit and courage. When seven skeletons are discovered on the grounds, and the barn with her best Kentucky Derby prospects is set on fire, Harper bears down to find the killer. The problem is, the culprit could be anyone: Is it JD, her childhood sweetheart, Marshall, their long-time trainer, or is it their nasty neighbor Red Cole, in partnership with her family for generations?
Someone is on a killing spree, and though Harper doesn’t know why, she is sure of one thing–the murderer is someone she’s known and trusted her whole life.
Virginia Slachman was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and has taught creative writing and literature at the college level for over twenty years. The recipient of numerous awards and fellowships for writing, she’s published several volumes of poetry; Many Brave Hearts, a memoir about her family’s experience with PTSD; and most recently Blood in the Bluegrass and Betrayed in the Bluegrass, the first two books in her mystery series set on a thoroughbred breeding farm in Kentucky.
An American tourist is murdered in a gay sauna in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Amanda Pennyworth, the American consul to that vacation resort, risks her career and her life to find the culprit. Amanda works with a junior officer of the Tourist Police in the search for suspects in the secretive underworld of this popular vacation spot. When a young Mexican boy is arrested by the impatient and brutal police chief on flimsy evidence, Amanda is convinced that it is a terrible mistake. But no one is willing to listen to her: certainly not the arrogant chief of police; not the boy’s parents who seem to blame her for the murder; and not the cynical American Ambassador who only wants to avoid an international incident. It’s up to her.
This is the second in a series of novels featuring the amateur sleuth, Amanda Pennyworth who finds, much to her surprise, that among her duties as consul for the United States is the dangerous pursuit of murderers.
Other books in the Amanda Pennyworth mystery series:
When Amanda Pennyworth began her assignment as American Consul in the beautiful resort city of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, she had no inkling she would be called upon to solve the mysterious disappearance of a famous expat writer. However, when he vanishes—the victim of a kidnapping—Amanda is drawn into the desperate search to save his life. Negotiating the competing layers of Mexican police: the Federales, the local constabulary, and the tourist police, she is pulled deeper into what she realizes too late is a cunning and deadly plot.
Rodrigo slowly backed out from the utility closet, banging the mop hoisted over his shoulder against the door. Turning around, he tried twice to prop it against one of the stools next to the bar, but each time it fell onto the tile floor with a clatter. In his right hand, he carried a bucket of water, so full that it slopped over the edge when he set it down next to the counter.
“Watch what you’re doing, damn it!” Antonio cried, without looking over the ledge to measure the spill. “Did you inspect all the rooms?”
“Number 201 has still got has stuff in it. At least there are clothes on the hook and the towel is gone.”
“And the key hasn’t been turned back in either,” Antonio said as he glanced at the rack behind him. “So the guy must still be around. Have you checked everywhere?”
“Not yet. Just going to.”
“Well, get to it. He’s probably sleeping it off somewhere. Wake him up and get him out of here. We’re not running a fucking hotel!”
Antonio was tired and hot and anxious to close up. The temperature outside, even though it was after 2:00 in the morning had to be at least 90 degrees, and inside, give it even three or four more despite the fans that just blew the heat around like the hot breath of desire. He turned around again and reached up to the console behind him and switched off the music. The sudden quiet, as the steady disco beat died out, felt like relief from a throbbing headache he didn’t know he had. Then, touching a switch on the wall, he turned on the fluorescent lights. The red glow from the recessed overhead lamps that had disguised every fault and feature with a romantic blur dissolved into a flood of stark white exposing the dark, uneven floor, the blemished and cracked grey walls. The unforgiving glare was bright enough to wipe any illusions, and ended the allure of this palace of dingy dreams. Further on, there was the dark well of a staircase that led down to the level below. The steps behind him that led up to private rooms.
“Make sure you check in the sauna and steam area,” he shouted after Rodrigo, who was just disappearing around the curve in his descent.
Once on the basement level, Rodrigo walked across the dim corridor and stopped in front of the wooden enclosure of the sauna. He peered into the small glass window on the door, but the light was off and he could barely make out the shapes of the benches. Opening it up, the heat spilled out, sweeping over him. He could smell the combination of wood resin and sweat. But the room was empty.
He walked further on to the glass door of the steam room. Pulling it open, he entered the damp gloomy space, edged past the tile-covered bench on the right side, and then turned around a corner into the darkened back area. Condensation from the ceiling dribbled on his forehead and he wiped his eyes to get a better look. There was just enough light to see a shape stretched out on one of the side benches.
“Vamos, Amigo, estamos cerrados,” he said. And then repeated his words in English—louder this time. There was no response, so he moved closer. He could see now that the person was entirely naked, resting on a towel. He reached down and shook the man’s shoulder.
“Wake up!” he said. “Get up!”
There was still no response.
Then, with both hands, he seized the man’s dangling left arm and tried to pull him up. But the unexpected dead weight was so much that the man slipped onto the floor instead.
“Damn!” he shouted. “Damn! He’s dead drunk!”
Retracing his steps, he hurried halfway up the staircase where he paused and called out to Antonio:
“Found someone, but he’s drunk and I couldn’t wake him up. What should I do?”
“Fuck!” cried Antonio as he walked around the edge of the bar. “I’ll come down with you and together maybe we can carry him out. How big is he?”
“Couldn’t really tell. Just lying there on the floor. It’s dark you know.”
The two of them descended the stairs and Rodrigo switched on the overhead lights at that level.
“And when we’re done,” he added. “Make sure you mop the floor in there. God only knows what….”
Rodrigo held the door of the steam room and then propped it open with a rubber shim that had rested inconspicuously against the wall. Antonio waited for him and together they edged around to the dark alcove. The man was still lying on the floor.
“Is this how you found him?”
“Well, yes; not exactly. I mean, I tried to get him up, but couldn’t. He’s too heavy and out cold. That’s why I called you.”
“OK, then you grab his legs and I’ll take his shoulders and we can steer him out of here and onto one of the benches outside.”
“Damn, that’s a lot; dead weight,” Rodrigo groaned, hoisting his ankles.
“Stop complaining! I’ve got him, so just back up and don’t drop him….Come on, Amigo. Wake up and help us out a bit!”
They struggled, half dragging the naked body out of the steam room, but instead of putting him on one of the benches or the worn couch at the side of the sauna enclosure, they just left him lying on his back on the floor.
“OK, Amigo, wake up. Last call! We’re closed!” Antonio said, bending over and looking at the man’s face.
“Definitely an American or at least a foreigner. Get a towel, Rodrigo, and cover him up while I try to wake him.”
Antonio crouched down on his haunches and felt the man’s face. It was warm, but there was no reaction. He grasped an arm, raised it up and then let it drop.
Rodrigo returned with two towels and placed them over the man’s body.
“Do you think he’s dead?” he asked suddenly.
“How should I know? Don’t know how to tell,” Antonio answered. “He’s not cold. And not stiff.”
“Feel for his pulse. I seen them do it on television. Feel his neck. That’s what the detectives always do.”
Antonio put his fingers around the man’s neck and waited. “I don’t feel anything. How am I supposed to know?”
“Those TV detectives can always tell, right away.”
“Yeah, but I’m not a detective! I think I’m going to have to call the police.”
“That won’t be good for business if he’s dead. Do you think he stayed in the steam room too long?”
“Don’t be crazy; it’s not warm enough in there to wilt a flower. Probably just had a heart attack or something. But he’s awfully young for that.”
“Do you see those red marks on his throat? Looks like maybe he was strangled.”
“He seems dead, so I guess he was. But you’re an expert now?”
“Just what I seen on American shows. Bruises where you press down hard. I don’t know nothing.”
Antonio stood up and walked toward the staircase: “Stay there, Rodrigo, I’m going to call the Tourist Police. In case he moves, let me know.”
“He ain’t gonna’ move. For sure.”
Reaching the main floor, Antonio walked quickly around the bar and through the door in back leading into the small office that also fronted the entrance, where customers standing behind a wire grill, passed their money through and picked up keys to lockers or retiring rooms and a towel and plastic flip flops. It was also where he kept his cellphone. He dialed the number and a sleepy voice answered:
“Is Captain Morelos there?”
“No. Sorry. He’s been transferred to Oaxaca.”
“Then can I speak to whoever is there?”
“You can tell me what’s the problem. If I decide it’s important I’ll pass you on to anybody.”
“Listen. This is serious! I’m Antonio Lopez at the Olympiad sauna. We got a customer that we can’t seem to wake up. I think he might be dead.”
“Did you try his pulse? Maybe he’s just drunk.”
“More than that, I’m afraid. You need to send someone around. Right away. I got to close this place up.”
“OK, OK. I’ll see if anyone is here and I’ll send them over.”
“How about sending a doctor or maybe an ambulance too? So you can get him out of here.”
“We’ll see about that when we get there.”
The police car pulled up in front about a half hour later. A tired looking officer dressed in crumpled fatigues and a middle-aged woman wearing slacks and a sweatshirt and carrying a black bag—someone who might have been a doctor or the Medical Examiner but without a uniform—came through the open doorway, up the stairs, and rang the bell in the entrance alcove. Antonio buzzed them inside.
“I’m Captain Gonzalez,” said the officer, pushing into the entranceway. “Just happened to be on duty and about to go home when you called. This is Senora Sanchez.” He seemed peeved by the interruption to his day. “Where’s the body?”
“I don’t want no trouble; we never had no trouble here,” Antonio said, as he guided them to the staircase and then down into the basement level. He turned to look at them as they followed: “He hasn’t moved since we took him out of the steam room.”
“So you moved him?” the examiner shook her head as she was pulling on a pair of plastic gloves. “That’s not very smart. Shouldn’t have.” She walked over to the body and crouched down, placing her fingers along the artery of his neck. She picked up and flexed his limp arm and then noticed the blotches on his neck.
“Do you think you could shine a flashlight on these marks,” she asked the officer. I can’t be sure, and won’t know until I have him back at the station, but it looks like he was strangled. You can see some bruising. And not too long ago. No signs of rigor yet.”
Then standing and addressing Antonio: “Do you have any identification for him? He looks like a foreigner. Could be about 25 years old or so.”
“Use your pass key and go look in his room again, Rodrigo, bring his clothes and anything else you find in his room,” Antonio ordered.
“Just a minute,” interrupted the woman. “I’m coming with you. And you’re not going to touch anything, understand?”
“But I already have…awhile ago. And I don’t need the key; I left the door open.”
“Come along and be quiet,” she said.. “Just show me the room and then stay out of my way! Anything else you did to corrupt the crime scene?”
Rodrigo was about to answer but thought she would just accuse him again.
So the two climbed up the staircase to the upper landing in silence while Antonio and the officer remained below staring down at the body.
“I don’t want no trouble,” said Antonio, in a tone that sounded more like a question than an assertion. “We never have no trouble here.”
“Yes, you said that before. But looks like you’ve got a lot of trouble now. Not much else I can say right off. But certainly it looks like a murder, and a foreigner too. Can’t think of anything worse for you. We’ll have to close your place down for a few days… maybe a week or two. Tomorrow, I’ll send a team to look for fingerprints. And don’t be surprised if you find a few things out of order.”
“But Officer; how long? We have to clean the rooms!”
“You’re not listening very carefully. You need to think about how you can help us instead of mopping the floors. And when we’re done here tonight, I want you and your helper to lock up. And plan to stay shut until I tell you to. Don’t have to tell you not to touch anything. And you’ll have to come to the station of course… a lot of questions to answer…but later.”
Approaching the row of cubicles on the second floor above the bar, Rodrigo led the Medical Examiner to the open door of 201. He switched on the single bulb light inside, which cast a weak glow around the tiny space, and let her step in first because there was scarcely any room to turn around. She entered and sidled along the raised wooden platform bed that was covered in some sort of plastic material and a crumpled sheet. The wall abutting it was mirrored up to the ceiling. Toward the far end there was a small built-in table. On top of it was a plastic water bottle, and above, to the right was a wall hook with a pair of jeans and a T-shirt still hanging.
Taking both items of clothing down, she spread them out onto the platform and turned the pockets of the jeans inside out. Both in front were empty except for a few coins on the right side. Reaching underneath, she took a wallet out of the back right pocket. It was empty except for a vehicle insurance card. In the dim glare, she could make out the name “Jeremy Blackman” with an address in Los Angeles.
“Was the door to this cubicle unlocked when you came to check on him?”
“I don’t remember, Senora; what I mean is, I always use my key so I wouldn’t know if it was or wasn’t, would I?”
“Do you have some system of lock-boxes? Somewhere he might have put money, credit cards, a passport?”
“And did you did find the room key anywhere on the body?”
“No. I didn’t see that neither. It would have been on an elastic band. Guys put them on their wrist or ankle sometimes.”
“You’re sure it didn’t fall off when you carried him out of the steam room?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty sure, but I’ll go back and look again.”
The Medical Examiner gave him an exasperated look, but said nothing further. She backed out of the room and walked swiftly along the corridor and down the two flights of stairs back to where the body was stretched out on the floor. Rodrigo followed, staying carefully well behind her.
“I’ve got an I.D. for him, some sort of insurance card from Los Angeles, but it looks very likely that he was robbed,” she told Captain Gonzalez. “No cash, no credit cards, no passport. Whether that has anything to do with his death is, of course, for someone else to prove. And I looked, but there was no key inside the cubicle, as you can see, none on his wrist and there was nothing in his pockets. Maybe when you do a more thorough search, you’ll find it.” Addressing Antonio, she continued: “Did anyone turn in the key?”
“No Senora. Whoever did this I think has taken the key with him.”
“Perhaps. We don’t know that yet. Maybe it will turn up when we’ve done a more thorough search.”
“As for the cause of death,” she said, turning to the Captain Gonzalez, “I’ll have a report for you tomorrow sometime once you get the body back to my lab. And I’ll tell you definitively if it was murder or not. But it looks like it.”
“Thanks Senora,” the officer mumbled. “I’ll deliver the body as soon as I can get an ambulance here. In the meantime, can you give me the insurance card? If that’s him and he’s an American, I’ll have to notify the Consulate.
“Good luck with that!”
“You know as well as I do, what; she makes trouble.”
The officer turned to Antonio who had moved away from the body, recoiling as if it was contaminated: “I want a list of names: everyone who entered today and, if you can, the time that this person arrived.”
“I’m sorry Officer, but we don’t keep a list of names. This ain’t a hotel.”
“OK, then, passport numbers or ID numbers for any locals will do.”
“Might not be complete.”
“Aren’t you supposed to check everyone who enters? What kind of a place is this?”
Antonio took a step backwards and almost sat down abruptly onto one of the benches along the wall.
“I’m sorry, Sir, yes, we usually check ID’s for the age of the person. And we generally write down the ID number. But maybe if Rodrigo was at the window, he might have forgotten to. He’s not very careful sometimes. So you’ll have to ask him. But listen: we never had trouble, here. And we have to be discrete, you know.”
“Well, in this case, I think you’ve got considerable trouble….Hardly the time to be worried about anyone’s reputation. Do you remember him—the victim—when he arrived and if he was alone?”
“I think maybe I was the one who checked him in. I seem to remember there were two them: Americans, I think, about the same age… young anyway. So if they actually came together, then one of them has obviously left alone. I can’t tell you exactly when; probably Rodrigo checked him out. You know it’s very simple process. They just shove their towels and sheets into a hamper by the exit and return their shoes and keys. I’m not sure I’d remember anyone leaving specifically. Sometimes I just buzz them out without looking if I’m busy at the bar. But ask Rodrigo; maybe he….” Antonio was intentionally vague; not because he knew something and didn’t want to say, but he figured if he sounded unreliable, the policeman would stop asking him questions.
“Then I’ll want that list of those entries you have before I leave.”
“I’m not sure I should give it to you,” Antonio said, after a pause. A look of dread spread over his face. “People who come here don’t want to have their names known. It could cause terrible trouble for me if you investigate them. I’m sure you understand.”
Gonzalez scowled and took a step toward him: “That’s not my problem. If this is a murder, and I think it is, any one of your clients could be the killer. I need those ID numbers. You’re to give me list before I leave. I don’t give a damn about anonymous or about your business.”
He then turned his gaze to the assistant who was sitting on a bench down at the end of the corridor. Rodrigo looked up anxiously when the policeman approached.
“Do you remember two Americans? The person lying here and maybe a friend of his? Did you see them together or check the other one out?”
Rodrigo stood up and stared blankly for a minute:
“I never pay any attention to the guys here whether they’re American or not,” he said, backing up against the bench he had been sitting on.
“Never make eye contact, because if you do…. I just work here; I’m not one of them!”
“I don’t care what you are or aren’t. Just tell me, did you see them together?”
“Not that I remember. But I do know that one American left earlier because I had to ask him for his towel. He’d left it in the locker area and I certainly wasn’t going to get it for him. But he may not be the one you mean. We get lots of foreigners here.”
“So that man you remember didn’t have a room?”
“I guess not. I didn’t check his key. But that wouldn’t be unusual. If two guys came together why would each need a separate room? But then this isn’t a place where anyone wants to explain what they’re doing or why. So who knows?”
“Do you remember what time it was? Approximately?”
“I don’t know. Maybe around 11:00 or so. I usually go outside for a few minutes around that time. Get some fresh air. Could have been then or when I came back in.”
“So you really don’t know.”
“That’s right. I don’t pay no attention. I just do my job without looking. I don’t get paid to see things.”
Gonzalez stared at Rodrigo for a moment and then decided that he kept repeating himself because of nerves. And probably knew nothing more. But he would keep an ear open for anything suspicious about him just the same. He wasn’t sure he could trust anyone here. And the whole place…maybe the late hour…and a foreigner murdered! He could expect nothing but trouble.
About the Author
James Gilbert is the author of four published novels, two of them in the Amanda Pennyworth Mystery Series. Two of his short stories have been awarded prizes by the F. Scott Fitzgerald Short Story contest (2017 and 2021). In his previous academic career, he was Distinguished University Professor at the University of Maryland specializing in modern American cultural history. As a historian, he published eleven American History books in modern American culture on subjects ranging from Twentieth Century World’s Fairs to the conflict between science and religion. One of his publications was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year.