A Day in the Life of Jeff Hinkley by Felix Francis

Damage USOccupation: undercover investigator for the British Horseracing Authority

I stand in the shadows at the back of a race-program kiosk near the entrance to Cheltenham racetrack, scanning the faces of the crowd as they flood through the turnstiles.

It’s the first day of the annual Cheltenham Steeplechasing Festival and, in spite of bad weather, a crowd of fifty thousand is expected. Everyone has an umbrella or a rain-hat of some kind – ideal conditions for the unwelcome to hide amongst the masses.

I know by sight all those who have racecourse-banning orders but I’m on the lookout for one particular individual that our intelligence branch has suggested might come to Cheltenham today.

I spend much of my time half hidden, scanning faces, watching out for those who have no place in racing.

Damage UKMy task would be easier if I knew none of the people funnelling through the entrance. Then I’d just have had to look for someone familiar. As it is, I know about a quarter of those passing in front of me: owners, trainers, jockeys as well as other regular racegoers that I’ve seen many times before. One of the reasons I have this job is because I have an uncanny knack of remembering faces.

The human swarm begins to thin out as the first race approaches.

‘They’re off!’ The public address announces the start of the first race.

I almost miss him.

As the race comes towards an exciting finale with the crowd cheering, the man rushes through the end turnstile, a red scarf wound around his neck and mouth, and with a battered trilby pulled down hard over his ears. It is the eyes that give him away.

I slip out of the race-program kiosk and scurry along behind him, keeping about ten yards back.

He turns right towards the concourse between the parade ring and the grandstand. There is purpose in his progress as if he has a specific agenda rather than merely wandering around.

Suddenly, he stops completely and turns round to face me.


I go past him without breaking step, looking not at him but at the iPhone in my hand.

He won’t know me, I am sure of it.

I hardly recognized myself that morning when I looked in the mirror. I believe that I am most effective if those I am pursuing don’t know what I really look like. Hence I use disguises, wigs and various degrees of facial hair, glued in place with latex adhesive.

A good disguise is all about distracting people’s attention away from one’s eyes. Give them something else to stare at and they might remember that feature, but they won’t recognize the man beneath.

Today I sport a well-trimmed goatee with collar-length dark hair under a brown woollen beanie. I purposely don’t want to look like one of the ‘establishment’, but equally I need to blend into the background.

I walked on twenty strides and then stop, half turning back. I place my cell to my ear as if making a call and silently take two photos of the man.

He starts moving again and I stand quite still talking to no one on my phone as he walks right past me. I wait a moment, then follow.

We are moving against the human traffic that is spilling out towards the winners’ circle now that the race is over, but he presses on into the stream, forcing his way forward as I struggle to keep up.

I follow as he goes into one of the bars beneath the grandstand.

The place is packed with long queues at every counter but the man is clearly not here to get a drink. Instead he weaves his way right through and out onto the now almost empty viewing steps beyond.

I hang back a little so as not to alert him to my presence.

I watch as he stands for a moment, moving his head from side to side as if searching for something before setting off again down the steps. He moves swiftly towards where the lines of bookmakers are sheltering from the rain under their umbrellas.

He is now about twenty yards away and, as I watch, he takes his right hand out of his coat pocket. And his hand is not empty.

‘Knife! Knife!’ I shout loudly, rushing towards him.

My shouts are swept away by the wind and there is nothing I can do but watch as the man goes straight up to one of the bookmakers and slashes his throat. There is no warning, no words at all, just a clean swipe of the blade across the bookmaker’s unprotected skin, which turns instantly from pink to bright red.

The whole thing has occurred so fast that even those standing close by seem not to realize what had happened until the bookmaker in question topples face-first onto the wet tarmac, the blood gushing from his neck like a scarlet fountain.

You can read more about Jeff in Damage, the 8th book written and/or co-authored in the “Dick Francis horse racing” mystery series, published by Putnam. The first book written and/or co-authored is Dead Heat.

Meet the author
Felix Francis is the younger son of literary legend, MWA Grand Master and three-time Edgar winner, Dick Francis. Felix has taken over the writing of the ‘Dick Francis’ novels and has recently finished DAMAGE, his eighth, which was published October 7, 2014. Felix lives in England with his wife, Debbie, and their three Irish setters.

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Meg Langslow’s Potential Houseguest by Donna Andrews

The Nightingale Before ChristmasMeg Langslow writes a letter to one of her cousins, with editorial comments from her husband, Michael

December 20

Dear Cousin Safflower,

Michael: Do you actually have a cousin named Safflower?

Meg: Now I do. She thought Susan was too commonplace.

Mother told me that you were thinking of coming for a visit at Christmas. Of course we’d love to have you–

Michael: Love to have her? Are you crazy? We already have more visitors than guest rooms. Tell her there’s no room at the inn. Tell her–

Of course we do have rather a lot of family already staying here, but I’m sure we can find room for one more. We’re all family, right? Aunt Ida says you’re welcome to bunk with her.

Michael: Isn’t Ida the one whose snores the boys mistook for another earthquake last night?

We’re pretty informal about meals at the moment, because Mother and I are spending so much time down at the Decorator Show House.

Michael: Won’t “informal about meals” imply that someone around here actually might have time to feed her this week?

I’m sure you’ll love the show house—we have twelve different designers, each doing a room in his or her own unique style.

Michael: She might love your mother’s room and a couple of the others, but I’m pretty sure she won’t like that bedroom that looks like something you’d find in the Addam’s Family’s house. And what about that dining room, with the forty-seven different flowered prints? Is that really supposed to be stylish?

Meg: No, Mother thinks it’s pretty tacky, too. But Caerphilly’s a small town. We only have so many decorators. We had to use the available talent.

Michael: Yeah, I guess that’s why you included that jerk Clay Spottiswoode. Why someone hasn’t throttled that man years ago is a mystery to me.

Mother is doing the Great Room, and I’m sure she’d love to have another pair of willing hands to help her finish everything that needs doing before we open. We’ve all been putting in twelve or fourteen hour days. By the way, how well do you sew?

Michael: Excellent! That should scare her off. And since she’s a cousin, I assume she knows about how much chance she’d have of escaping a work detail when your mother’s around.

Do let me know when you’re arriving. Dulles Airport is only two hours away, and while it’s unlikely that Michael and I will be able to meet your plane, luckily, one of the local chicken farmers drives his truck up just about every day to deliver eggs and live chickens to an organic market in Washington, and he’s always happy to swing by the airport for us.

Looking forward to seeing you soon!



You can read more about Meg and her illustrious family in The Nightingale Before Christmas, the 18th book in the “Meg Langslow” mystery series, published by Minotaur. The first book in the series is Murder with Peacocks.

GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 6 p.m. eastern on October 27 for the chance to win a copy of THE NIGHTINGALE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.

Meet the author
Donna Andrews is the author of twenty-two mystery novels, including eighteen in the Meg Langslow series from Minotaur. Her most recent books are The Good, the Bad, and the Emus (July 2014) and The Nightingale Before Christmas (October 2014). She blogs with the Femmes Fatales (http://femmesfatales.typepad.com), and when not writing she can probably be found in her garden, taking a picture of whatever flowers haven’t yet been eaten by the deer.

You can reach Donna at her website, on Twitter or on Facebook.

A Day in the Life of Janet MacPhail by Sheila Webster Boneham

Catwalk“She doesn’t act her age.” Can you believe someone said that about me recently? I wish I’d been there—I would have asked the guy who said it just exactly how a woman in her fifties is supposed to act. Then I would have fantasized about confirming his opinion in some spectacularly “age inappropriate” way! But I digress. . .

According to my source (and love of my life, anthropologist, fellow animal nut, and all around good guy Tom Saunders), I seem to lack “decorum.” And I dress funny—meaning very casual with lots of hair, my own mess and whatever I collect from dogs, cats, horses, and other critters. Tom couldn’t stop laughing long enough to tell me this in complete sentences. It all came out in spurts and bits while he whooped and wiped his eyes. I have to admit, I found it hilarious too, even if I was outraged. Especially when I heard that my critic couldn’t understand why I “wasted so much time on animals.” That was a slap at Tom, I’m sure—he and his black Lab, Drake, are always out doing something. Drake even goes to the university with Tom (which caused a bit of a “thing” last year with the same critic, who happens to be a dean). And now Tom’s looking for a puppy.

It’s true, I spend a lot of time with animals. First, I’m a serious animal lover and proud of it. I’m Janet MacPhail, and I’m pretty well known among pet lovers in northern Indiana and surrounds. You see, I’m a professional animal photographer (you’ve probably seen some of my photos in calendars and books and magazines). At the moment I have a gorgeous Australian Shepherd, Jay, and a brave and handsome orange tabby, Leo. I can’t guarantee I won’t add more critters to the mix at some point. And of course Drake is almost half mine, since Tom and I have been romantically involved for almost a year now.

I also train and compete in a variety of dog sports and—this is new—cat agility. No, really, Leo and I have entered our first feline agility trial, and we’re having great fun training. Jay and I have been at it a bit longer, and we compete in agility and obedience, and we do some tracking. (Jay does the tracking with his magnificent nose; I bring up the rear.) The tracking has proven a life saver on more than one occasion, as I’ve gotten tangled up in some nasty happenings over the past twelve months.

Who would think so much could happen in one short year? My life in Fort Wayne, Indiana, used to be pretty routine—a photo shoot here, a dog show there, with cat cuddles and hikes in between. I still do all that, but now I also have to balance the ups and downs of loving Tom, and the ins and outs of nursing-home care for my mother. And, it seems, the terrors and intrigues of homicide investigations.

Tom should ask his buddy the dean what he thinks about that. I’d like to listen in. I mean, if he thinks playing with animals is inappropriate “for a woman my age,” what would he say about murder?

You can read more about Janet in Catwalk, the third book in the “Animals in Focus” mystery series, published by Midnight Ink. The first book in the series is Drop Dead on Recall, followed by The Money Bird.

Meet the author
Sheila Webster Boneham writes the Animals in Focus mystery series. Best-seller Drop Dead on Recall, the first in the series, won the 2013 Maxwell Award for Fiction from the Dog Writers Association of America and was NBC Petside Top Ten Dog book of 2012. Sheila has been involved with many sides of the animal world and has written seventeen nonfiction books about dogs and cats, six of which have won major awards. You can find Sheila at sheilaboneham.com, or at her Writers & Other Animals blog at writersandotheranimals.blogspot.com, or on Facebook.

One Potion in the Grave by Heather Blake

One Potion in the GraveOne Potion in the Grave by Heather Blake is the second book in the “Magic Potion” mystery series. Publisher: Obsidian, October 2014

Carly Bell Hartwell’s love potions are always in demand in Hitching Post, Alabama, the wedding capital of the South.

When Katie Sue Perrywinkle walks into the Little Shop of Potions, Carly is surprised and delighted to see her old childhood friend. Katie Sue fled her hometown and a troubled family over a decade ago. But she’s not back for a social visit. She’s come to settle a score with Senator Warren Calhoun, who is in town for his son’s high-profile wedding.

But before Katie Sue has a chance to voice any objections, she’s forced to forever hold her peace. After finding her friend dead, Carly vows to find her murderer. Were the corrupt Calhouns willing to go to any lengths to avoid a scandal? Did Katie Sue’s family take the term “bad blood” to a whole new level? And why did the bride-to-be come to Carly for a love potion? As Carly gets closer to the truth, a killer is planning a very chilly reception.

This is a brilliantly executed and finely tuned tale that enthralled me from beginning to end. This eccentrically quirky pleasing cast of characters pulled me into the story line that I felt every emotion the main protagonist displayed in her interaction with those around her. The author did a great job of hiding the murderer in plain sight- well done, well done. Being the second book in this series, this is the best one yet and I love how the family relations pull together to help their own. A delightfully engagingly entertaining enchanted story that will lift your spirits and leave you smiling. I can’t wait for the next book in this wonderfully fantastic series.

Viva Las Vegas with Davis Way by Gretchen Archer

Double StrikeWelcome to the Bellissimo Resort and Casino in Biloxi, Mississippi, where dreams come true, especially if you dream of going flat broke at a five-star resort on the beach. If that’s your dream, come see me, but be warned: For every sane person who walks into this casino, nine crazies follow.

My name is Davis Way, I’m a Super Secret Spy for the Bellissimo, and my job is to keep the crazies at bay. A tall order most days. For the last twelve days, our team of three—me, my partner Fantasy, and our man-child Baylor, who Fantasy and I have joint custody of—have been chasing down Crazy Hat Lady. Three of us, one of her, twelve long days. CHLady has been loose in the casino (freaking everyone out) bewitching gamblers and taking their good luck. (Eighty years old, has outrun us seventy-nine times.) (She’s back at Sea Breeze Elder Care where she belongs and this time with an alarm in her hat.) It got to the point of humiliating that between me, Fantasy, and Baylor, we couldn’t catch the old bird. One day we came close. We had her cornered in a gift shop.

“Ma’am,” I said, “you can’t go around the casino pulling people’s good luck hair out of their head. It hurts and it’s rude.”

“And kicking total strangers with those hiking boots of yours doesn’t knock the good luck out of them either,” Fantasy told her.

While we were distracting her with our sage advice, Baylor was bringing up the rear to tackle her. That old woman had eyes in the back of her crazy hat. She grabbed a ceramic fish serving platter off a display shelf and tried to beat the stew out of Baylor with it, cracking it over his head. So here’s some advice: If you’re in the casino and you suspect the person beside you is cra cra, nine out of ten times you’re right. And if you’re playing a slot machine, minding your own business, and all of a sudden one strand of hair is painfully plucked from your head, it means Crazy Hat Lady has chewed through her Sea Breeze Elder Care leash. Again.

More Bellissimo advice? You got it.

*Never split tens. For one, you already have a winning hand. For another, everyone at the blackjack table will be mad at you.

*Don’t try to beat up slot machines. Really, don’t.

*For the last time, no, the casino can’t cash your Home Depot gift certificate.

*You people out there stealing all the hotel pillows, please, think about it. Why do you want a pillow 400 people have slept on?

*The best sandwiches at the Bellissimo are at Shakes, the ice cream parlor. I’m not sure what a chipotle is, but it’s very good on a sandwich.

*There is no positive outcome to a casino scenario that includes Red Bull and vodka.

*Baccarat is a violent game. Those Baccarat players have anger issues.

*Anything can happen. We had a girl here last week who’d been left at the altar. It was to have been a small wedding, then a three-night honeymoon at the Bellissimo. I met her when the brakes went out on her 1992 Ford Festiva hatchback; the girl and the car wound up in the Bellissimo front fountain. Across the hatch window, in black spray paint, it read, Hit that Bubba. The poor girl, standing in water up to her knees, wearing a wedding dress two sizes too big, mascara everywhere, had twenty-seven dollars to her name. Fantasy and I kept her company while her Festiva was being airlifted out of the fountain. We calmed her down, cleaned her up, and pointed her to the casino. First, she won a car. A brand new Range Rover Sport. Then she was dealt a mini royal in spades at a three-card progressive poker table, netting her a cool $672,480. By Sunday, news of our jilted bride’s good fortune spread around her hometown of Iuka, Mississippi. Bubba showed up, found her in the Bellissimo salon as the finishing touches of her head to toe makeover were being applied. Bubba changed his mind; he was ready to get married. She gave him $500 and a pat on the back. “Bubba, I hope to never lay eyes on you again,” she said, “but try your luck in the casino. Anything can happen.”

You can read more about Davis in Double Strike, the third book in the Davis Way Crime Caper Series, published by Henery Press. The first book in the series is Double Whammy.

GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 6 p.m. eastern on October 24 for the chance to win a copy of DOUBLE STRIKE plus a swag pack. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Three lucky winners will be selected at random.

Meet the author
Gretchen Archer is a Tennessee housewife who began writing when her daughters, seeking higher educations, left her. She lives on Lookout Mountain with her husband, son, and a Yorkie named Bently. Double Whammy, her first Davis Way crime caper, was a 2013 Daphne du Maurier Award finalist and hit the USA TODAY bestsellers list.

You can visit her at www.gretchenarcher.com, on Facebook or Twitter.

Desperate Times of Carly Bell Hartwell by Heather Blake

One Potion in the GraveHave mercy on my soul! Life’s a little nutty right now, what with Katie Sue Perrywinkle turning up in town after being gone ten years. Her appearance has caused quite the stir. Between her being mixed up with the rotten-to-the-core Calhouns, and the bad blood with her own family… It’s enough to make a normal person want to run and hide until the smoke clears.

Did I mention that “normal” has never been a word used to describe me?

Peculiar is more like it. True enough, I come from two of the most eccentric families in Hitching Post, Alabama (the Fowls and Hartwells), but my “normal” factor really tanks when people find out that I’m a witch. A healing witch and empath—I have the ability to feel another person’s aches, pains, and emotions…and I have the tools to fix them. It comes in all kinds of handy.

There’s bad energy swirling around Katie Sue, but I don’t know what’s causing it. All I know is that my old friend is in danger, and I’ll do just about anything to protect her, including going against a corrupt political family, cozying up to my ex-fiancé (okay, I’m doing that anyway), and calling on my cousin Delia, a black witch, for help. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

I’m just hoping it’s not too late for Katie Sue…

You can read more about Carly in One Potion In The Grave, the second book in the “Magic Potion” mystery series, published by Obsidian. The first book in the series is A Potion To Die For.

gift pack 1Heather is running a month-long ONE POTION IN THE GRAVE Witchtastic giveaway via Rafflecopter (9/23 – 10/23). Win a set of “Cast a Spell” measuring spoons, a set of three Yankee Candle potion bottle tea light holders, a Lego minifigure witch, and a $20.00 gift card to Barnes & Noble -or- Amazon (winner’s choice). To enter: www.heatherblakebooks.com/p/giveaway.html or http://tinyurl.com/k9rzmby

Bonus Giveaway: Leave a comment by 6 p.m. eastern on October 23 for the chance to win a copy of ONE POTION IN THE GRAVE. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only.

About Heather
Heather Blake (aka Heather Webber) is the author of more than twenty novels and has been twice nominated for an Agatha Award. She’s a total homebody who loves to be close to her family, read, watch reality TV (especially cooking competition shows), drink too much coffee, crochet, and bake cookies. Heather grew up in a suburb of Boston, but currently she lives in the Cincinnati area with her family and is hard at work on her next book.

FB: facebook.com/heatherblakebooks
Twitter: @booksbyheather


Weekly Roundup* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

This week on dru’s book musings

October 20: Carly Bell Hartwell from One Potion In The Grave by Heather Blake
October 21: Davis Way from Double Strike by Gretchen Archer
October 22: Janet MacPhail from Catwalk by Sheila Webster Boneham
October 23: Meg Langslow from The Nightingale Before Christmas by Donna Andrews
October 24: Jeff Hinkley from Dick Francis’s Damage by Felix Francis
October 25: Louise Montgomery from An Intimate Murder by Stacy Verdick Case

Last week on dru’s book musings

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