Tag Archives: Midnight Ink

A day in the life of Chloe Ellefson by Kathleen Ernst

All I wanted was a week away. A breather from my misogynistic boss, Ralph Petty. I work as curator at a huge outdoor museum called Old World Wisconsin, and although I love it, Petty can make life difficult.

So I was pleased to learn that I was being “loaned” to Pendarvis, a sister site, to help assess collections storage needs. The site preserves several homes built for the Cornish immigrant families that arrived in the 1830s to mine lead in southwestern Wisconsin.

I’m passionate about immigrant history, and especially love delving into the experiences of those sturdy souls who left little behind to document their experiences. Most of the Cornish immigrants were illiterate. With few exceptions, their material possessions would have been functional items, used up and worn out. I’m especially hoping to learn more about the first Cornish women to arrive.

Besides, the Pendarvis curator, Claudia, is a friend. I really expected the week to be a break from all things stressful.

But the day my boyfriend Roelke and I arrived in town, we learned that administrators were considering closing Pendarvis. Why? Supposedly because too many funds had been funneled to my site, Old World Wisconsin. After hearing that news, some of the locals are not looking kindly on my visit.

Then, Roelke discovered human remains buried in an old Cornish cottage near Pendarvis.

And then it became clear that someone at Pendarvis is keeping a deadly secret.

So it’s safe to say that my days here as guest curator are not at all what I’d expected. Today Claudia didn’t show up for work. Her boss has disengaged. The staff resents me. Town residents are upset. And a killer is wandering among the quaint stone buildings on the site.

One thing is clear. If I can’t figure out what’s going on, I could soon become history myself.

You can read more about Chloe in Mining for Justice, the eighth book in the “Chloe Ellefson” mystery series.

Digging Up Secrets Uncovers a Legacy of Peril

Chloe Ellefson is excited to be learning about Wisconsin’s Cornish immigrants and mining history while on temporary assignment at Pendarvis, a historic site in charming Mineral Point. But when her boyfriend, police officer Roelke McKenna, discovers long-buried human remains in the root cellar of an old Cornish cottage, Chloe reluctantly agrees to mine the historical record for answers. She soon finds herself in the middle of a heated and deadly controversy that threatens to close Pendarvis. While struggling to help the historic site, Chloe must unearth dark secrets, past and present, before a killer comes to bury her.

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About the author
Kathleen Ernst is a former museum curator who remains passionate about history! In addition to the Chloe Ellefson Historic Sites series, she has written many books for American Girl, including nine about the historical character she created, Caroline Abbott. The Chloe series has earned a LOVEY Award for Best Traditional Mystery, and several of her mysteries for young readers have been finalists for Edgar or Agatha awards. Connect with Kathleen at www.kathleenernst.com, Sites and Stories blog, and on Facebook.

All comments are welcomed.

Double-Booked Blog Tour with Shannon Baker and Jess Lourey – Part II

Hi Dru Ann and all you LOVElies (see what I did there?).

Thanks for letting me (Shannon Baker) and Jess Lourey share a little taste of our characters’ days. Jess and I are globetrotting with our second Lourey/Baker Double Booked Blog Tour and we wouldn’t travel a mile without stopping at Dru Ann’s.

Jess’s newest in the laugh-out-loud Murder by the Month mystery, March of Crime, launched in September and my next Kate Fox mystery, Dark Signal, is slated for October 17th. (Pre-order!) Forge is releasing a .99 Kate Fox short story September 17th, but at the time of this writing, I don’t have a link, so I’ll put it in the comments. So here’s some Mira James (from Jess) and Kate Fox (from Shannon) playing dueling dumba**es. Who wins?

I shuffled the sheriff department budget worksheet pages for the billionth time. I’d calculated and recalculated and concluded I could afford a new computer to replace the antique on my desk that was as big as a two-ton boulder and about as efficient. Done with that chore, I checked email, picked up my pencil, dropped it on the desk and took the ponytail elastic from my hair. Put it back in my hair and grasped the pencil again.

When the phone rang, I nearly shouted for joy. Anything to break the monotony. “Sheriff.”

Marybeth, dispatcher extraordinaire, spoke in staccato. “Nine-one-one call from First National. Sounds like attempted robbery in progress.”

Holy moly. A real crime in Grand County. It took me less than five minutes to run from the courthouse to the bank.

Skeeter Duning stood on the polished pine floor, in the middle of the bank lobby. He held a gun like he might dangle a horse halter from his right hand. Faded jeans hung from skinny hips, greasy felt cowboy hat limp on his head, he looked like something from an Ace Reid comic.

Joanne, the gray-haired teller, stood behind the worn wood counter looking irritated. “He’s all yours, Kate.” Since this was a Tuesday afternoon, the branch manager would be in Broken Butte for the weekly regional meeting, leaving Joanne alone in the bank.

I kept my tone light. “Hey, Skeeter.”

His shoulders dropped even further and he didn’t raise his face to look at me.

I took slow steps his way, keeping my eyes on his gun. “Why don’t you take that pantyhose from your face and tell me what you’re up to.”

* * * * * * * * * *

“Convince people that Otter Tail County is safe.”

Shouldn’t have been too hard, what Ron Sims was asking. Otter Tail County was plop in the heart of gorgeous northern Minnesota. From the air, it appeared more lakes than land, a fistful of sapphires scattered across an emerald field. On the ground, at least in March, it smelled like melting snow and rich black dirt. Most residents didn’t lock their doors, and they’d be sure to stop and ask if you were okay if they happened upon you stalled on the side of the road. Five bucks at a local café bought you coffee, juice, bacon, toast, and eggs done any way. Kids sold lemonade on corners come summer, about the same time of the year as the turtle races started back up. Norman Rockwell surely had held the area gently in mind when he painted his folksy vision of America.

Convince people that Otter Tail County is safe.

Not only should Ron’s demand have been a slam dunk, as editor, owner, and publisher of the Battle Lake Recall, his request was reasonable. It’s not like he was, say, my gynecologist requesting that I spin a shiny PR web across a whole county. I’d written articles for his newspaper since I’d relocated to Battle Lake, Minnesota, one year ago this month.

But here’s the deal. I’d just found out that what I thought was a quiet restaurant patron sitting two stools down from me was actually a life-sized, realistic doll crafted by an elderly woman named Ida.

Battle Lake, right?

Still, I was considering his request when the restaurant’s door opened behind me.

Ron’s face dropped.

He was not happy to see who had just entered.

I swiveled to check it out.

And immediately regretted my decision.

* * * * * * * * * *

Skeeter’s sigh sounded like final surrender. He raised his gun hand and I closed my fingers on the handle of my Smith and Wesson.

Then I understood he wanted me to hold his revolver so he could lift his hat to peel off the pantyhose. I checked the cylinder. No bullets.

The bank’s phone rang and Joanne lifted her plucked eyebrows at me. “I’ve got to get that.”

I nodded and waited for Skeeter to mash his old hat back on his nearly bald head. I didn’t offer the gun back to him.

His chin sank to his chest. “Sorry to roust you from your business.”

I led him to the cracked leather couch under the front window and waited for him to sit. “I wasn’t busy. What’s going on?”

Sad eyes swam in his wrinkled face. “Welp, that ol’ caddy of Ava’s, you know the blue one?”

I knew. Skeeter saved for years to buy his wife that car. A ranch hand doesn’t earn much, so a Cadillac, even in the early 70’s would take a commitment.

Not sure I’d ever seen a face so sad. “Welp, the transmission went out. You know, Ava’s got the cancer, ain’t ’spose to last the year. She loves that car, calls it her baby. I just wanted to make sure she gets to ride in it until the end.”

Joanne mumbled into the phone and I hoped she wasn’t starting the rumor race about Skeeter.

* * * * * * * * * *

Battle Lake’s Mayor Kennie Rogers, she of the country-music name and the death-metal soul, famous far and wide for her thick make-up, outrageous clothing, questionable politics, fake southern accent, and far-fetched business ventures, was striding into the Stew. Today she appeared to be sporting an ensemble from the Ride Me Barbie collection, starting with a tiny plastic cowboy hat nestled in her crunchy platinum beehive and plastic Barbie boot earrings dangling from her lobes. The accessories would be ridiculous if they didn’t so beautifully accent her sheepskin coat and over a Western snap-front red shirt—currently more front than snap what with her ample bosoms pushing toward the light—and jeans so tight that her camel toe had spawned fingers. Bright pink stiletto cowboy boots finished off the outfit.

Whoo-boy. My roller coaster morning was taking another screeching dip.

It wasn’t her outfit, which I had to admire for its sheer commitment to a single message. Nope. It was that Kennie was one of those people who made your life harder simply by occupying the same space as you. In a special twist of fate, something about me intensified her life-hardening superpower. She sought me out like it was her job, always wanting to involve me in her money-making schemes, either as a customer or a partner.

Before you say “that doesn’t sound so bad,” here’s a sampling of the businesses: a reused marital aid company called “Come Again”; coffin tables (place your coffee cups on it now and your body in it later!); a home bikini waxing service; and her most recent, sales of a raspberry-flavored hair tonic that rumor had it was actually a veterinary-class sedative that caused baldness. I didn’t want to stick around to find out what was up next.

* * * * * * * * * *

I wanted to pat Skeeter’s hand or give him a hug, but I’m sheriff and that didn’t seem appropriate. “You know you can’t rob the bank to pay for your car repair.”

He slumped against the couch. “I couldn’t see no other way.” Ranch jobs didn’t offer 401k’s or pension packages. Skeeter and Ava would be getting by on social security. Proud as the old cowboy was, he wouldn’t allow anyone to have a benefit pancake feed or even a collection can set out at the Conoco.

Joanne hung up and watched us from behind her counter. I couldn’t read her expression.

I thought of my budget, the new computer I wouldn’t be getting next year. “It happens I’ve got some odd jobs that need taken care of around the courthouse. If you’d be willing to help me out for a week or so, I’d be grateful.”

Skeeter didn’t move for a few seconds, then he sat up straighter. “I guess I could see my way free to do that.”

I reached out to shake his hand.

His grip was firm and when he let go he smiled, showing the gap where the mama cow had kicked out a tooth. “Can I have my gun back?”

I stood and we walked out together. “I’ll hang on to it for a while.”

I love Grand County and I’m settling into my new job, but I’d bet a rhubarb pie (I hate rhubarb) that no other county has weirder crimes.

* * * * * * * * * *

I waved at Ron, who was still regarding Kennie like a child watches an incoming spoonful of cough syrup, pitching my voice low so as not to draw Kennie’s attention. “Thanks for the coffee, Ron, but I need to head out.”

Kennie hadn’t noticed us in the rear of the restaurant yet. She was working the crowd near the front door. I’d never been more grateful for the Turtle Stew’s side entrance. I could sneak out unseen! I turned toward the rear exit, a satisfied smile pinching my cheeks. Dang if I wasn’t going to salvage this morning.

“Mira James!”

Kennie’s southern-tinged yell drew the attention of the handful of patrons who hadn’t yet noticed her Western-themed resplendency. I shrank into myself, tossing all my eggs into the “she can’t see me if I don’t look at her” basket.

“Stay where you are, honey!” she continued. “I have a proposition for you.”

My stomach dropped below Battle Lake’s water table. I spun on my heels, committed to sprinting if need be. Unfortunately, I turned so fast that I collided with the nightmarish doll. Ida’s freakshow toppled toward the floor.

“I’m so sorry!” I hollered at the world, watching the crapfest play out in slow motion. My physical reflexes kicked in almost as soon as my apologetic ones, and I dove toward the doll, trying to catch it before it fell. I slipped a hand under it a nanosecond before it hit the floor. My plan was to keep it from smacking in case there were any breakable parts. Instead, surprised by the weight and density of the doll, I found myself falling along with the human puppet.

Something primal recoiled as I plummeted with the doll, a sickly-sweet smell causing my flight response to kick in, though I was off balance and powerless to flee. The doll hit first, with the weight and slap of a side of frozen beef. I tumbled on top immediately after, knocking her akimbo in my effort to not land directly on her.

The doll’s hat and wig went flying, and the coffee cup she’d been holding crashed to the floor. After a collective gasp, the restaurant went deathly silent, everyone watching me scramble to balance myself and fix this mess.

Something was shrieking at me to run, something dark and terrible and slimy, but the terror was so great, so enormous, that it couldn’t get ahead of my mouth, which was still trying to negotiate the social faux pas of tumbling the life-sized doll. “Don’t worry! I’ll put her back just like I found her!”

I gathered the wig and hat, planning to slam them back onto the doll and hoist her back onto the stool before the other patrons had a chance to process what was happening. That’s when the terror caught up to me, silencing me, crashing me finally, fully into the moment.

My slack-jawed horror was reflected in the faces of every person in that restaurant.

They were staring at the doll, their mouths agape.

I followed their horrified gazes.

The only sound I could make was a greenish oof as my heart plummeted.

What had been sitting on that stool all morning wasn’t a doll at all.

When she’d tumbled to the ground, her China doll mask had slipped enough to reveal gray human flesh underneath the macabre porcelain.

I saw a hand reach forward to remove the mask. When the cold porcelain shocked my system, I became aware that the hand was mine, and it was working without my permission. A gentle tug, and the mask was free.

Underneath was a human corpse, female, her icy cold death stare pointed at the drop ceiling, her mouth in a tight angry rictus as if she’d died yodeling.

The mask dropped from my numb hands, crashing to the ground and shattering into white and red shards.

That’s when the screaming started.

We are each giving away three books on the Lourey/Baker Double-Booked Tour. For every comment you make along our tour stop, you’ll get another entry in the contest. Don’t be shy; we love talking to you.

September 2 – Mysterious Musings
September 5 – Janice Hardy
September 7 – The Creative Penn
September 9 – Write to Done
September 12 – Wicked Cozy Writers
September 20 – Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blog
September 21 – There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room
September 23 – Femmes Fatales
September 24 – Writer Unboxed
September 25 – Dru’s Book Musings
September 27 – Do Some Damage
October 3 – Terry Ambrose
October 12 – Jungle Red Writers

About the authors
Shannon Baker is the author of the Kate Fox mystery series (Tor/Forge). Set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills, Kirkus says, “Baker serves up a ballsy heroine, a colorful backdrop, and a surprising ending.” She also writes the Nora Abbott mystery series (Midnight Ink), featuring Hopi Indian mysticism and environmental issues. Shannon makes her home in Tucson where she enjoys cocktails by the pool, breathtaking sunsets, a crazy Weimeraner, and killing people (in the pages of her books). She was voted Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s 2014 and 2017 Writer of the Year. Visit Shannon at www.Shannon-Baker.com.

Jess Lourey (rhymes with “dowry”) is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing “a splendid mix of humor and suspense.” She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft’s Excellence in Teaching fellowship, a regular Psychology Today blogger, and a sought-after workshop leader and keynote speaker who delivered the 2016 “Rewrite Your Life” TEDx Talk. March of Crime, the 11th book in her humorous mystery series, releases September 2017. You can find out more at www.jessicalourey.com.

All comments are welcomed.

My Musing ~ A Christmas Peril by J. A. Hennrikus

A Christmas Peril by J. A. Hennrikus is the first book in the NEW “Theater Cop” mystery series. Publisher: Midnight Ink, September 2017

Sully Must Get Her Childhood Friend Off the Naughty List Before They’re Both Scrooged

When Edwina “Sully” Sullivan’s life imploded, she left behind her job on the police force and her unfaithful husband to start a new life as the general manager of her hometown theater, the Cliffside Theater Company.

For five years, she focused on budgets instead of crime and kept the Cliffside running alongside its mercurial artistic director. But when her childhood friend is suspected of killing his father, no one is looking for another culprit. So, in between keeping A Christmas Carol on budget and Scrooge sober, Sully dusts off her investigative skills to find a murderer. Her two lives collide when her ex-husband arrives on the scene to play lawyer and she’s forced to confront her past in order to save her present.

This is a great introduction to a new series where we learn all about Sully and her circle of friends. Sully is an ex-cop, current theater manager who have to use her old skills to begin an investigation in order to clear her cousin, who is the prime suspect. The fresh new drama was staged seamlessly with a comfortable tone and a nice pacing that made it an easy and enjoyable read. This finely tuned mystery had plenty of suspects and clues scattered throughout and some surprising twists and turns that enhanced how well this multi-plot story was told. The author did a great job in presenting a likable tale that had me wanting more. Boasting a great cast of characters, engaging dialogue and a perfect backdrop, this was a delightfully entertaining debut series and welcome addition to the cozy genre.

A day in the life of Sully Sullivan by J.A. Hennrikus

A day in the life? This should be entitled what a difference a few years make. A few short years ago I had a great career on the police force, was happily married to a handsome assistant district attorney, living in Boston, firmly on the side of truth and justice. Where did it all go wrong? Hard to say. I was brought into an investigation that got political, and some of the bad guys won. My career went off a cliff, and I was given an early retirement. You’d have to know me a little bit better to understand that I was not the easiest person to live with those days, and I shut Gus, my now ex-husband out. I felt vindicated when I found out he was having an affair, but the breakup of my marriage was as much on my shoulders as it was on Gus’s. Then my dad got sick, and I went back to Trevorton to take care of him. After he died, I decided to stay in my hometown.

When I moved back, I had to decide what to do next. A lot of ex-cops become private investigators, but I didn’t want to go that route. If I couldn’t wear the badge, I didn’t want to do the job. A few weeks after my father died I saw a notice that the Cliffside Theater Company was looking for a general manager. I asked my friend, Eric Whitehall, about the job. He was on the board of the Cliffside, and had talked to me about the recent incarnation of the company. Years ago, my late mother had worked in various capacities at the Cliffside, and the theater company held a sentimental place in my heart.

Eric didn’t doubt that I could do the job, with some training. His question was why I wanted to do it. The artistic director was a genius, but mercurial. He went through at least one general manager a year. The theater was well regarded, but deep in debt. Patience was running low for the entire enterprise, and there had been talk in town about other ways to use the harbor side space. I decided to throw my hat in the ring, and I got the job.

Now, I’m not setting myself up as the hero in this situation. I often think that my mother orchestrated my new career in her heavenly attempt to reboot my life. Trust me when I say that taking this leap was not in my modus operandi. I also didn’t expect it to be anything but a one season pursuit. But here I am, five years later, working on our annual production of A Christmas Carol, trying to keep the guest star we hired to play Scrooge sober, recasting Marley, and figuring out how to spend more money on lights and sound. Instead of walking on the razor’s edge of justice and the law, I’m walking the edge of art and entertainment. I’m also feeling more alive than I have in years. Joy has re-entered my life.

At least it had until recently. Eric’s father was killed last week, and I’m worried that my friend is on the suspect list. Do I need to put my investigator’s hat back on? After all these years, will it still fit?

You can read more about Sully in A Christmas Peril, the first book in the NEW “Theater Cop” mystery series.

When Edwina “Sully” Sullivan’s life imploded, she left behind her job on the police force and her unfaithful husband to start a new life as the general manager of her hometown theater, the Cliffside Theater Company. For five years, she focused on budgets instead of crimes and kept the Cliffside running alongside its mercurial artistic director.

But when her best friend is arrested for killing his father, the rich and powerful Peter Whitehall, no one is looking for another suspect. So, in between keeping A Christmas Carol on budget and Scrooge sober, Sully dusts off her investigative skills to find a killer. Her two lives collide when her ex-husband gets on the suspect list and she’s forced to confront her past in order to save her present.

Buy Link

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About the author
J.A. Hennrikus writes the Theater Cop series for Midnight Ink. The debut of the series, A Christmas Peril, came out on September 8. As Julianne Holmes, she writes the Agatha nominated Clock Shop Mysteries for Berkley Prime Crime. The third in the series, Chime and Punishment was released on August 1, 2017. She has short stories in three Level Best anthologies, Thin Ice, Dead Calm and Blood Moon. She is on the board of Sisters in Crime, and is a member of MWA and Sisters in Crime New England.

She blogs with the Wicked Cozy Authors and Killer Characters. Connect with J.A. at JHAuthors.com, on Twitter, and on Instagram.

All comments are welcomed.

A day in the life of Ali McGovern by Catriona McPherson

I start the morning with lemon in hot water, a probiotic yoghurt and some almonds. There’s no use a beauty therapist having dog-rough skin from bacon butties and too much coffee. Then it used to be the gym, but gym membership was one of the first things to go. After my Vogue subscription but before the shift to supermarket own-brands.

Now I push the couch back, put the coffee table up on its end and do a twenty-minute work-out with Davina McCall. Or in theory, I do. But the couch is heavy and the coffee table’s always laden. It’s been a while, if I’m honest. And I’ve started having a Pop-tart for breakfast too.

But my beauty regime is unchanged: I wash my face with plain water and a rough flannel, I spritz it with rose-water and I dab on a bit of SPF 15. All before my shower. In the shower, I exfoliate, I pumice, I brush with a bristle brush, I work my loofah toward the heart. Sometimes I think I’m trying to wipe myself out, one dermal layer at a time.

My hair gets washed once a week. That’s plenty so long as you don’t fiddle with it. Or work in a coalmine, I suppose. It’s all the touch-touch-touching with dirty fingers that makes hair greasy – nothing to do with your scalp oils, And it’s the same thing with spots and bad skin. People are always touching their faces. No wonder winter colds do the rounds. As a beauty therapist, I’ve trained myself not to touch my mouth, eyes, nose or ears with my fingers. And I haven’t been ill in ten years.

Once I’m dressed for the day – in white tunic and trousers, comfy clogs and no jewellery – it’s a bit of a blur. I’m lucky if I can grab an apple and slice of cheese at lunchtime. A single appointment is half an hour – lashes, brows, half-leg waxes – and then the full-waxes, mani-pedis and facials are all double appointments. My book’s full and I don’t like to let people down.

Except, look what just happened. I slipped right back into the past, to when Face Value was my pride and joy, when I had a book of regular clients and no time for lunch. Truth is, my whites are put away in vacuum bags and my products are oiled to keep them fresh, clingfilmed and packed in the dark. I thought it would only be for a month or so. I keep meaning to open them up and check them. They’re probably drying out, oxidizing. They’re probably useless by now.

So let’s try that again. I do look for jobs. I look at Indeed.co.uk online, and I even go to the Job Centre sometimes, even though it is hands-down the most depressing place on earth. Worse than a hospital ward. Worse than the visiting room in an undertaker’s. I imagine. And it’s nice to be home when Angelo gets in from school. He’s too cool to talk to me, of course, but if there’s a sandwich made, he’ll eat it. And they do say it’s not quality time that matters, don’t they? It’s just time.


It heals. That’s another thing they say. And they’re wrong. They’re idiots. Time doesn’t heal anything. It just passes and – sometimes – it tells.

You can read more about Ali in House. Tree. Person., a novel of suspense.

The body found in a muddy grave across the street is just the latest horror threatening to tear Ali McGovern’s life apart seam by seam. She knows Angelo, her brooding teenage son, is keeping secrets. She fears he’s in danger, too. But her new job at the psychiatric hospital, the job her husband pushed her into, is using up everything she’s got every day. She can try to ignore the sounds that surely can’t really be there. And she can try to trust the doctors, who can’t be as dark as they seem. But can Ali hold herself, her life, and her family together without getting blood on her hands?

Buy Link

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About the author
Catriona McPherson is the multi-award-wining and best-selling author of the Dandy Gilver mysteries, set in Scotland in the 1930s, and six modern suspense thrillers, for which she has been Edgar and Mary Higgins Clark shortlisted. House. Tree. Person. (UK: The Weight Of Angels) is her twentieth novel. Catriona lives in northern California. Reach out to Catriona at catrionamcpherson.com.

All comments are welcomed.

A day in the life with Francine and Mary Ruth by Elizabeth Perona

the missing ingredient for a good first date

“Only you would schedule a blind first date at a cooking class,” Francine said, shaking her head as she and Mary Ruth navigated the narrow aisles of the local Sur La Table. They scouted the faces of the shoppers more than the kitchen items. “Do you even know what he looks like?”

Mary Ruth fluffed her auburn hair, which Francine knew had recently been highlighted. “Well, on the dating website Tyler is tall and thin, has chestnut eyes, a Tom Cruise smile, and a Clint Eastwood chin. Good ingredients, at least for a first date.”

“How can you be sure he didn’t fake the photo?”

“I can’t.” Her head swiveled as she passed a guy with a vague resemblance but was shorter and had a gap-toothed smile. More David Letterman than Tom Cruise. “I can’t even be sure his real name is Tyler.”

“Did you use your real name and photograph?” Francine pressed.

“Of course.” She ran her hands down the curves of her hips. “Did I mention I’m down to a size ten?” Francine admired her friend’s transformation. It had started a year and a half ago when their first Bucket List adventure gained national notoriety on a slow news day. Mary Ruth, a caterer in her seventies, had given up unhealthy habits, slimmed down, and now occasionally appeared on Food Network. “And it was his idea to meet here.”

“I wonder why he suggested it.”

She shrugged. “It’s neutral territory. Plus, we’re both foodies, divorced, and we love scones. Though I wouldn’t have chosen Garrett for a teacher.” Garrett Stone, a “Next Food Network Star” competitor, was known as the king of scones because of his award-winning flair with biscuits. He was now touring as an instructor. Mary Ruth had a not-so-happy history with him. “Your role is to be my way out of this date if I need one.”

Francine looked at her watch. “We should head to class. Maybe we’ll see him back there.”

They were the first ones in. Francine scouted the name tags on the table. “I don’t see anyone named Tyler,” she said sotto voce.

Mary Ruth slipped the white apron over her head with practiced ease and looped the strings around her waist. “You’re right. The only male name is Kenneth. Maybe I’ve been stood up.” She stuck her lip out.

More people scurried in behind them and snatched up aprons and name tags.

Garrett entered the room and everyone hushed. “Good evening, all!” he said with energy. “I’m Garrett Stone, the King of Scones, and today we’re going to learn how to make those British delights and more.” He passed by them and gave Mary Ruth a playful nudge.

“He’s cuter than on television.” Francine said.

“He’s full of himself.”

“Have you noticed he’s tall, has chestnut eyes, and a chin that could be described as Clint Eastwood-esque?”

Mary Ruth seemed stunned. “You’re right!” She fumbled with the measured-out ingredients. “He does kind of look like Tyler. You don’t suppose he lured me here for a date, do you? Well, if he did, he’s got another thing coming. All I want is revenge!”

Garrett winked in their direction. “I’m delighted to see that I’m joined today by Chef Mary Ruth Burrows. When I found out I was going to be teaching in Indianapolis, I was hoping we’d have a chance to meet again. Let’s hope today goes better than our first date did on “Cutthroat Kitchen.””

Francine remembered the episode on the cooking competition show that caused the dustup. Garrett stuck her with a sabotage causing her to be bombarded with cream pies. She was eliminated that round. Garrett’s losing the next was no consolation. Obviously, she was still angry.

“There won’t be a second date, that’s for sure,” she retorted, eliciting chuckles from the class.

He blanched and proceeded with class instructions.

“Do you believe that comment about a date?” Mary Ruth said to Francine. “Like we actually had one! I think he set this up. I think he’s Tyler.”

Garrett was rapidly dictating what to do. Mary Ruth dumped the flour and butter into a bowl. Francine was about to hand her the pastry blender when Mary Ruth began to rub the butter into the flour, creating a breadcrumb-like mixture.

“Class!” Garrett announced loudly, startling Mary Ruth. He had come up behind her while she was working. She spilled half the flour/butter mixture on the table. Francine used the scraper to get it back in the bowl.

“Instead of using the pastry blender as I demonstrated earlier,” Garrett continued, “the classic way to integrate the butter is with your fingers, as Chef Mary Ruth is doing here. Can you gather round?”

“I’ll kill him,” Mary Ruth muttered under her breath.

“Time to kick into ‘star’ mode,” Francine advised.

“I’ll kick him in his star mode.”

Mary Ruth beamed a high-wattage smile. She tilted the bowl toward her classmates with one hand and used the other to demonstrate.

“While we’re here,” Garrett asked, “would you please add the sugar, eggs, and baking powder?”

The class watched as Francine dutifully added them to the bowl and Mary Ruth stirred them with a wooden spoon.

“Now add about half the milk,” he said.

Mary Ruth complied and stirred.

“You want it to be a soft, wet dough. Add enough milk until it gets to that state.” He dumped the contents onto the work surface and bumped her out of the way. “Now I’ll demonstrate how to ‘chaff’ the dough.” He folded the dough in half, turned it ninety degrees, and folded it again.

“Garrett,” she said sweetly, “are you sure this has enough milk in it?”

“Quite sure. If anything, it looks a bit sticky.”

“Really? I think you should take a closer look.”

He bent over. Mary Ruth pushed the back of his head down, planting his face deep into the dough. “That’ll teach you to play me for a fool! And I will never date you, ‘Tyler.’”

“And you’re crazy if you think I would ever date a kitchen witch like you,” he said nasally, rushing from the room to clean his face.

A tall, thin man looking very much like the date Mary Ruth described earlier bumped into him on the way out. He grabbed his name tag as he hurried over. “I’m Kenneth. You know me as Tyler. Sorry I’m late. I ran into traffic.”

“Tyler?” she said, stunned.

“We can still have our date, can’t we?”

“Not here,” she said. “We need to leave, and quickly.”

“What about the scones? Should I grab the ingredients?”

“The only real ingredient we need for our first date is a getaway car. Let’s go.”

They fled, leaving Francine to finish the scones.

That night she had a successful evening on e-Bay. She sold a baked good bearing the facial features of the King of Scones for $100. Who’d have thought?

You can read more about Francine and Mary Ruth’s adventure in Murder at the Male Revue, the third book in the “Bucket List” mystery series.

The Skinny-Dipping Grandmas enjoy a male stripper show . . . until it gets too hot to handle and nearly goes up in flames.

When Mary Ruth’s company is hired to cater a fundraiser fea- turing the Royal Buckingham Male Dance Revue, the ladies see the chance to cross another item off their bucket list: helping divorcée Joy McQueen get over her decades-old fear of men in the buff. But when fundraiser sponsor Camille Ledfelter is stabbed to death, the women must uncover the naked truth about who wanted her dead.

Proving who did it, however, will require dodging a persistent stripper-for-hire, surviving the American Legion Bingo, drinking high-end cognac, searching for a certain 3-D printer, and laying bare the motives of a dangerous killer.

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About the author
Elizabeth Perona is the father/daughter writing team of Liz Dombrosky and Tony Perona. They write the “Bucket List” mystery series. The third in the series, Murder at the Male Revue, was published in July by Midnight Ink. This short-short story introduces two of their sleuths from the series.

All comments are welcomed.

My Musing ~ House. Tree. Person. by Catriona McPherson

House. Tree. Person. by Catriona McPherson is a novel of suspense. Publisher: Midnight Ink, coming September 8, 2017

A year ago, she was happily married, running her beauty salon, raising her son, living in her dream house. Now Ali McGovern’s dreams are slipping away and all her old ghosts are rising.

A job at Howell Hall, the private psychiatric facility nearby, seems too good to be true. Why have they employed her? How can they afford her? And what are they hiding? When a body is discovered in a shallow grave on Ali’s first day at work, it feels like one last horror. But it’s just the beginning of her descent into a nightmare world she never imagined existed, far too close to home.

With a well-defined plot, this riveting drama had me engrossed in all the minute details in a book that I could not put down. The angst, the intrigue, and the suspense all came together in the visually descriptive narrative that placed me in the center of all the action. The tightly deep twists that you know is coming but don’t see until it hits you is what I liked about this story, where every factor, every character, every movement is pivotal in how well this tome was told. The palpitation of my heart couldn’t control the gripping desire I had to see how this would end and boy did it ever. The author has a way with bringing complex characters, engaging dialogue and trepidation in a psychological state of being where nothing is as it seems, but when it is all said and done, you have an intensifying thriller that leaves you wanting more. And the title of the book, well-played, well-played indeed.

Pre-Order Link

FTC Full Disclosure – I received a digital ARC of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

A day in the life of the Anonymous Journaler by Lisa Alber

You asked me to chronicle a typical day in my life, and as my therapist, you’re allowed. However, I don’t have a typical day anymore. All I have is what I can etch out of the long days, trying not to feel paranoid even though I am paranoid. He’s out there somewhere. We both know he is, and I suspect he’ll come for me at some point. I wonder if I’ll feel him in the vicinity before I see him . . .

So, how about I tell you about an atypical day? You’ve been urging me to meet new people. You’ll be happy to know I met the detective in charge of the murder investigation I told you about. People are saying the death was quite gruesome, poor man.

The detective’s name is Danny Ahern. I met him while I was visiting Liam Donnellan’s house—the local matchmaker, you remember. Nathan asked me to accompany him on the visit. As soon as I stepped into Liam’s house I sensed illness and tension swirling through the air.

The illness came from Liam, who has cancer, but the tension came from Danny. I’ve since learned that his wife is in a coma as a result of a previous investigation. Danny isn’t taking care of himself. He’s thin and his skin color was off. He looked tired, but even so, I could tell that Nathan interested him. Something dark swirls around Nathan, to be sure. I sensed it the first time I met him; it’s what drew me to him, in fact. No surprise since I have my own darkness swirling around me.

Watching Danny watch Nathan had me wondering whether Nathan is a suspect in the murder investigation. There was something going on in the room, but I couldn’t decipher it, except that it somehow also had to do with Nathan’s daughter. I’ve seen her from afar, and she’s bright as a spring lamb. Beautiful and bouncy and evidentally a devoted daughter even if Nathan doesn’t seem particularly thrilled that she recently moved in with him.

Liam’s daughter Merrit arrived not long afterwards. She couldn’t hide her surprise when she walked into the kitchen carrying several bags of groceries. She shot Liam a what-the-bloody-hell? look that made me smile into my tea cup. I read her easily enough. She suspected Liam was up to something. He probably was. Even I can tell that he’s a wily old devil inside that frail body.

As soon as Merrit arrived, Danny went on alert and called her outside with him for a chat. Through the window, I spied them walking in the rain, the intensity of their conversation evident in Danny’s tensed shoulders and Merrit’s hand gestures.

There’s plenty going on beneath the surface of quiet Lisfenora village. The good thing is that speculating about these people took my mind off my own problems for awhile. I’m a stranger to County Clare, a stranger to these people, yet I can’t help feeling I’m being dragged into some new darkness. This may be my paranoia talking again, but I keep picturing the new darkness overlapping with him, out there somewhere.

You can read more about Danny, Merrit, Nathan, and Liam (not to mention the anonymous journaler) in Path Into Darkness, the third book in the “County Clare” mystery series.

By the author of Whispers in the Mist, heralded by Library Journal as “a first-rate crime novel,” comes this haunting tale of family secrets, madness, and healing in small-town Ireland

Lisfenora is known across the British Isles for its yearly matchmaking festival. But a local man’s murder and the grim discovery in his home have cast a somber mood over the town. Detective Sergeant Danny Ahern tries to make sense of the chaotic scene while struggling to set aside moral conflicts and grief for his comatose wife. Within days, he’s plunged into even darker terrain when the investigation leads him on a collision course with the Tate family: troubled Nathan, who conceals secrets within ghastly secrets, and beautiful Zoe, the daughter Nathan abandoned years ago.

In this “dark, compelling mystery” (Booklist), one man is propelled toward a tragic downfall while the other struggles to walk the narrow path between life and death.

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Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win a print copy of Path Into Darkness. US entries only, please. The giveaway will end August 27, 2017. Good luck everyone!

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About the author
Lisa Alber writes the County Clare mysteries. Her debut novel, Kilmoon, was nominated for the Rosebud Award of Best First Novel. Kirkus called her second novel, Whispers in the Mist, a “worthy successor to Kilmoon in tone, mood, complexity, and keen insight into human failures and triumphs.” She balances writing with gardening, dog-walking, and goofing off. She lives in Portland, OR.

You can find Lisa online at lisaalber.com, Facebook and Twitter. Sign up for Lisa’s newsletter HERE.

All comments are welcomed.

A day in the life of astrologer Julia Bonatti by Connie di Marco

My profession isn’t an easy one. Oh, I know, people assume being an astrologer is a snap. They think I just flip on the computer, open my astro program and pull amazing predictions out of the air. Uh uh. Doesn’t work like that.

I have to spend time, sometimes hours, with a natal chart. I have to figure out where a new client is at in their lives, what planetary cycles have occurred, which transits are coming up, and most importantly why they’re coming to see me at this particular time. I can usually figure it out, that’s why I prefer they not tell me why they want an appointment. I’d rather approach the chart without any preconceived notions, look at it with a clear mind.

It’s not psychic power. If they want a psychic, I’d send them to The Mystic Eye to see my colleague Zora. She’s actually a very good psychic, but trust me, I can deal in more detail and not to sound egotistical, but I can also give my clients a plan for the future.

I have some terrific clients. I really do. And most of them are lovely people that I like very much. But then there are the others . . .

The Stone Face Client – this guy won’t move a facial muscle or respond at all. He’ll sit like a statute and not even give a nod of acknowledgement, as if he expects a performance. No no no . . . doesn’t work like that. This is a give and take situation. Even when you say, “Let’s talk about what happened when you were ten.” Still no response. Because I can see it in their chart that something traumatic happened at that point in their life. So then of course, I pretty much have to tell them what happened when they were ten. It’s like chipping away at a mountain of rock. Exhausting!

The Redundant Client – she’ll come back in six months or a year with the very same problem, as if it’s just happened and I know then she didn’t listen to a thing I said at our last appointment. She has not moved on and has not taken my advice, even when I try to change her perspective and point the same thing out in a different way.

The Freebie Client – these are the ones who call on the phone and launch into their latest drama. Because they showed up once for an appointment, they expect free advice for the next ten years.

Now, I’m perfectly happy to repeat what I’ve told them at their last session, but I’m not about to get into anything else unless they want to make an appointment. I mean I’m kind and understanding, but I’m not running a charity.

The Misdirection Client – they arrive with loads of business and career questions, but I know they’re really struggling with a romantic dilemma. When I introduce that subject they bounce back to chatting about their careers, and continue talking as if I hadn’t asked a question. It’s like pulling hen’s teeth.

The No-Show Client – they’ve made an appointment but they’re terrified. They’ll call half an hour before they’re due to arrive (after I’ve done all the work I might add) and cancel with some excuse. What I really love is when they call again, make an appointment and still get cold feet and cancel. I mean, why? I’m not going to bite. There’s nothing to be afraid of.

And that doesn’t take into account my clients who inveigle me into investigations and crime solving. Believe me, I’ve gotten into a lot of trouble trying to help people.

I don’t mean to complain. I really don’t. I love what I do and my clients are, for the most part, terrific people. But you’ll get a taste of some of the things I have to deal with in the Zodiac Mysteries. And just wait till you find out what happens in my next adventure ~ All Signs Point to Murder. I hope I make it through alive. If I do, I’ll never complain about a client again. I swear!

Still, I wouldn’t change my profession for the world!

You can read more about Julia in All Signs Point to Murder, the second book in the “Zodiac” mystery series.

The stars predict a wedding-day disaster, but San Francisco astrologer Julia Bonatti never expected murder.

Julia Bonatti is alarmed by the astrological signs looming over Geneva Leary’s wedding day, but nobody asked Julia’s opinion and being a bridesmaid means supporting the bride no matter what. Even with the foreboding Moon-Mars-Pluto lineup in the heavens, no one’s prepared for the catastrophes that strike: a no-show sister, a passed-out wedding planner, and a lethal shooting in the dead of night.

With anger and grief threatening to tear the Leary family apart, Julia is determined to understand how such a terrible tragedy could have occurred. As she digs deeper into the family’s secrets, her astrological insights lead her to some rather unexpected conclusions.

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About the author
Connie di Marco is the author of the Zodiac Mysteries from Midnight Ink featuring San Francisco astrologer, Julia Bonatti, who never thought murder would be part of her practice. All Signs Point to Murder is the second in the series, released August 8, 2017.

Writing as Connie Archer, she’s the national bestselling author of the Soup Lover’s mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. You can find her excerpts and recipes in both The Cozy Cookbook and The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook. She is a member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

Connect with Connie at conniedimarco.com, or on Facebook, Twitter and Amazon.

All comments are welcomed.