Tag Archives: traditional mystery

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.

A day in the life of Maggie Crozat by Ellen Byron

Night falls, and the bonfires on the levees north of New Orleans start to catch fire. One by one, flames lick through the thirty-foot high structures. Onlookers cheer as bonfires covered with strands of firecrackers crackle and explode. I don’t cheer. I’m too busy running.

I dash past one conflagration after another, my arms scalded by flaming ash, running from a murderer who’s already claimed one victim. I have zero desire to be the next. I scream for help, but no one can hear me over the roar of flames. As I race by with my nemesis on my heels, people whoop and holler. They think it’s a game. “Laissez les bon temps rouler!” someone calls. Let the good times roll.

I scream as the firecrackers on another bonfire set off a rat-a-tat-tat that sounds like a semi-automatic weapon. If the murderer on my tail decides to use a gun, no one will even notice. Out over the Mississippi River, fireworks burst in the sky and color rains down. At this point the levees could be a battlefield. I’m battling to stay alive.

I slip in the wet grass and twist my ankle, then limp into the shadow of an unlit bonfire to nurse the injury. Flames suddenly wrap around the side of the structure and head toward me. Hiding behind what’s basically a giant matchstick? Not a good idea. I take off again, ignoring the pain. At least the dance exercise classes my friends Gaynell and Ione dragged me to have provided an extra dose of stamina. Who knew learning how to jeté in BalletBod would come in so handy?

The air smells like burning wood, gun powder, and beer. I’m covered with a coat of ash that’s been turned to glue by a steady light rain that won’t let up. It’s going to take scrubbing with steel wool to get the gunk off me – if I’m lucky enough to survive the night.

This was not how I planned to spend Christmas Eve.


You can read more about Maggie in A Cajun Christmas Killing, the third book in the “Cajun Country” mystery series.

Maggie Crozat is back home in bayou country during the most magical time of the year. In Pelican, Louisiana, Christmastime is a season of giant bonfires on the levee, zydeco carols, and pots of gumbo. Except this year, the Grinch has come to stay at the family-run Crozat Plantation B&B. When he floods travel websites with vicious reviews, Maggie thinks she’s identified him as rival businessman Donald Baxter. That is, until he’s found stabbed to death at Maggie’s workplace. And Maggie and her loved ones become top suspects.

The Crozats quickly establish alibis, but Maggie’s boyfriend, Detective Bo Durand, remains under suspicion. With Bo sidelined during the investigation, Maggie finds herself forced to work with an unlikely ally: longtime family enemy Rufus Durand. Her sleuthing uncovers more suspects than drummers drumming, and lands her in the crosshairs of the murderer.

The sleigh bells are jingling, and the clock is ticking for Maggie and Rufus, who must catch the killer or it will be the opposite of a Joyeux Noël in A Cajun Christmas Killing, the recipe-stuffed third installment of USA Today bestselling author Ellen Byron’s Cajun Country mysteries.

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Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win a print copy of A Cajun Christmas Killing. U.S. entries only, please. The giveaway ends October 13, 2017. Good luck everyone!

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About the author
Body on the Bayou, the second book in Ellen’s Cajun Country Mystery Series, recently won the Left Coast Crime Lefty Award for Best Humorous Mystery, and was nominated for an Agatha Award in the category of Best Contemporary Novel. Ellen’s debut novel in the series, Plantation Shudders, was nominated for Agatha, Lefty, and Daphne awards, and made the USA Today Bestseller list. Book three, A Cajun Christmas Killing, launched October 10th. TV credits include Wings, Just Shoot Me, Fairly OddParents, and many pilots. She’s also an award-winning playwright and journalist. Ellen lives in Studio City with her husband, daughter, and two spoiled rescue dogs. Visit her at ellenbyron.com.

All comments are welcomed.

A day in the life of Carrie Jorgenson by Catherine Bruns

Being a waitress is a draining job, both physically and mentally. Customers are often rude and it can be difficult to keep that smile plastered on your face all day. On the bright side, I fancy myself an actress so that part isn’t usually a problem.
Finding dead bodies, though? Yeah, that’s become somewhat of an issue for me.

My name is Carrie Jorgenson. I’ve lived in paradise (Hawaii) for almost four months and I’m finally starting to forget about my former life back in Vermont, which never actually was a life. But I prefer not to talk about the past anymore. My home and future are in Kauai now and I have a lot to be thankful for. Besides my fantastic boyfriend I have an adorable cat named Benny, an awesome little apartment and a full-time job at Loco Moco Café that I enjoy most days. And this Friday night is opening weekend at the Hana Hou Theater for Little Women, The Musical. I’m playing Beth—you know, the sister who contracts scarlet fever and dies. Oh, shoot. Maybe I shouldn’t have given that part away. . .

The ironic thing is that I’m in a musical and can’t even carry a tune. My coworkers Poncho and Vivian are always begging me not to sing karaoke at the cafe. But I love it and am improving, sort of. Last night I didn’t even shatter one drink glass. Success!

Keanu is a terrific guy and I’m so close to saying those three little words to him. Something seems to be holding me back, though. Keanu’s also my boss which sounds like it would be a problem, but it’s not. His parents? Eh, they’re a bit of a different story. They bought Loco Moco Café from Hale Akamu a few months ago. He’s the man whose dead body I found (waves hand) after work one night. Terry Church is Keanu’s dad and thinks I’m some type of gold digger. Yes, I heard him with my own two ears. It’s amazing the things you discover when hiding in a closet, let me tell you.

Anyhow, ever since Randolph Cremshaw walked into Loco Moco the other day, things have changed, and not for the better. You see, Randolph’s a mega popular food critic. He used to live in Hawaii and visits the island often. He came into the cafe and ordered our trademark loco moco, which is a yummy dish that consists of white rice and a hamburger patty with a fried egg on top, all smothered in mushroom gravy. Unfortunately, something went wrong with his order—let’s just say it was a flaming experience—and he’s using his powerful social media presence to inform everyone that our restaurant has “gone loco.” Nice, huh? That’s why Terry instructed me to bring Randolph a complimentary meal over to the Aloha Lagoon Resort, where he’s staying. Oh, and did I mention that Randolph enjoys having people bow and scrape at his feet? Sorry, not me, mister.

That should have been the end of it, except then Randolph informed me that his Kona coffee wasn’t hot enough. Apparently, his nickname is “Kona Man” because that’s his favorite beverage. Seriously, who can afford to drink Kona coffee every day? It’s wicked expensive. Randolph ordered me to bring him a new carafe right away. So, I’m on my way back with the coffee and now my temper is as searing hot as his beverage. Let’s see if either one is to his liking.

Why no one has killed this guy yet remains a mystery. I mean, he’s nasty as all get out and leaves one-star reviews for everyone. I tap on the door to his suite, which is slightly ajar. He must have left it open for me. When I look inside, I spot Randolph lying on the floor. He’s gasping for air and trying to tell me something. Panicked, I drop the carafe and coffee flies everywhere. By the time I dial 9-1-1, it’s too late. Randolph’s gone and I’ve stumbled on another dead body—again.

This whole daily grind thing is getting to be a bit too much.


Death of the Kona Man is the sequel to Death of the Big Kahuna and part of the multi-author Aloha Lagoon series with Gemma Halliday Publishing. Note: The Aloha Lagoon books can be read in any order.

Carrie Jorgenson is living the dream in Hawaii. She has a steady job as a waitress at the Loco Moco Café, a hot new love interest in her manager, and the curtain’s about to rise on her role in a local theater production. But when she’s asked to deliver food to a guest at the Aloha Lagoon resort—who then drops dead!—her dreams quickly become the stuff of nightmares.

World renowned food critic Randolph Cremshaw has no shortage of enemies. He’s rude, patronizing, and famous for his one-star reviews. After the coffee Carrie delivers is discovered to have been poisoned, she and the café quickly rise to the top of the suspects list. A jealous co-worker, thefts at the restaurant, and a performance that threatens to blow up in Carrie’s face only make things worse. With an already full plate, Carrie is also forced into making a decision that may change everything for her. But this all pales in comparison when she comes face to face with Randolph’s killer and what might be the final curtain call. . .of her life.

Recipes included!

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Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win copy of Death of the Kona Man, either signed print (U.S. residents only) or Kindle/Nook (open to everyone), winner’s choice plus an Aloha Lagoon tote bag. The giveaway will end October 11, 2017. Good luck everyone!

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About the author
Catherine is the USA Today bestselling author of the Cookies & Chance mysteries. She lives in New York with her very patient husband, three sons, and assorted cats and dogs. Catherine has a B.A. in English and is a former newspaper reporter and press release writer. She also writes the Cindy York mysteries and the Aloha Lagoon (Carrie Jorgenson) mysteries. To find out more about future releases and giveaways, you can sign up for Catherine’s newsletter here. Please feel free to connect with her on social media as well: Facebook and Twitter.

My Musing ~ Dark Signal by Shannon Baker

Dark Signal by Shannon Baker is the second book in the “Kate Fox” mystery series. Publisher: Forge Books, coming October 17, 2017

Reeling from her recent divorce, Kate Fox has just been sworn in as Grand County, Nebraska Sheriff when tragedy strikes. A railroad accident has left engineer Chad Mills dead, his conductor Bobby Jenkins in shock. Kate soon realizes that the accident was likely murder.

Who would want to kill Chad Mills? Kate finds that he made a few enemies as president of the railroad workers union. Meanwhile his widow is behaving oddly. And why was his neighbor Josh Stevens at the Mills house on the night of the accident?

While her loud and meddling family conspires to help Kate past her divorce, State Patrol Officer Trey closes in on Josh Stevens as the suspect. Kate doesn’t believe it. She may not have the experience, but she’s lived in the Sandhills her whole life, and knows the land and the people. Something doesn’t add up—and Kate must find the real killer before he can strike again.

The next stage in Kate’s life begins when she is sworn in as sheriff, but the “good old boys” won’t let her be. Her instincts tell her one thing, but the facts point elsewhere and it’s Kate’s dogged pursuit of the truth that lends itself to this gratifying tale of suspense and mayhem.

Who wants Chad dead? Is it a co-worker? His wife? Or someone with a grudge? That’s the mystery that surrounds this well-written drama that casts aspersions on those closest to the decease. The narrative was visually descriptive making me see beyond the written word as the on-going action takes over the story from the discovering of the body, to notifying the spouse, to a secondary plot that rears its ugly head and impacts the main plot, to questioning friends and associates and to the family dynamics that plays a strong role in Kate’s daily interactions. And that fast and frenetic scene towards the end kept me immersed in all that was happening as it kept my eyes on the prize in this terrific sequel.

Who killed Chad? That’s the story that you’ll find in this wonderfully executed tale that will leave you hungry for more adventures in Grand County and with Kate Fox.

Buy Link


FTC Full Disclosure – I received an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) from the author/publisher.

A day in the life with Jaya Jones by Gigi Pandian

I love my cozy attic apartment, with my tabla drums in the corner and sloping ceilings above. And I adore my miniscule office in the history department, filled with books and a steady flow of undergraduate students.

I’m a historian, which in my life means that in addition to teaching I’m a history detective who unravels centuries-old mysteries all over the world. This week, however, I’ve traveled over 5,000 miles from home for a different reason.

It was oh-so-tempting to stay home during my university’s weeklong Thanksgiving break, but seeing my best friend Sanjay perform a magic show in Japan was too good an offer to pass up. Sanjay performs as The Hindi Houdini, and he was invited by Japan’s most famous stage magician to be the opening act of a televised magic show.

That’s how I ended up here in Kyoto, Japan. But instead of sightseeing, I find myself being chased by a ninja who’s attempting to sabotage the magic show.

A ninja? Yes, a ninja. A warrior from ancient Japanese culture. I don’t actually think I’ve fallen through time. But there’s a man dressed as a ninja to disguise his identity and throw us off balance. So far, it’s working.

I thought that while Sanjay was practicing his magic act I’d have time to be a tourist and do a bit of my own historical sleuthing in Japan. Silly me. Instead of having time to look into a phantom Dutch trading ship that went missing as it sailed from India to Japan 150 years ago, I’ve had to turn my attention to helping my friend stay alive and make a splash with his Japanese debut. Wish me luck!


You can read more about Jaya in The Ninja’s Illusion, the 5th book in the “Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt” mystery series.

A fabled illusion performed by a stage magician who claims to possess real supernatural powers. A treasure from the colonial era in India when international supremacies vied for power. A phantom trading ship lost over 200 years ago. And a ninja whose murderous intentions in present-day Japan connect the deeds of a long-dead trader who was much more than he seemed. . .

When Jaya Jones travels from San Francisco to Japan with her stage magician best friend Sanjay—a.k.a. The Hindi Houdini—for his Japanese debut, she jumps at the chance to pursue her own research that could solve a tantalizing centuries-old mystery.

With the colorful autumn leaves of historic Kyoto falling around her, Jaya soon loses sight of what’s real and what’s a deception. A mysterious ninja attempts sabotage on Sanjay’s trick, along with Japan’s most controversial magician, Akira. Ancient folklore blurs the lines between illusion and reality when a magician’s assistant appears to be a kitsune, a mythical fox spirit. As tricks escalate to murder, Jaya and her friends must unravel secrets hidden in the ancient capital of Japan, before one of their own becomes the next victim. Perfect for fans of Elizabeth Peters.

“A beautifully complex, fast-paced mystery—a well-crafted blend of modern magic and ancient secrets, full of compelling characters and set in one of Japan’s most beautiful—and mysterious—locations.” – Susan Spann, Author of the Hiro Hattori Mysteries

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Giveaway: Leave a comment below for your chance to win a set of 8 book-themed recipe cards. U.S. entries only, please. The giveaway ends October 6, 2017. Good luck everyone!

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About the author
USA Today bestselling author Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. She spent her childhood being dragged around the world on their research trips, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and a gargoyle who watches over the backyard vegetable garden.

Gigi’s novels have been described as a cross between Indiana Jones and Agatha Christie. She writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series (Artifact, Pirate Vishnu, Quicksand, Michelangelo’s Ghost, and The Ninja’s Illusion), the Accidental Alchemist mysteries (The Accidental Alchemist, The Masquerading Magician, and The Elusive Elixir), and locked-room mystery short stories. Gigi’s fiction has been awarded the Malice Domestic Grant and Lefty Awards, and shortlisted for Agatha and Macavity awards.

Learn more at gigipandian.com, sign up for Gigi’s newsletter here, and find her on Facebook.

All comments are welcomed.

My Musing ~ A Cajun Christmas Killing by Ellen Byron

A Cajun Christmas Killing by Ellen Byron is the third book in the “Cajun Country” mystery series. Publisher: Crooked Lane Books, coming October 10, 2017

Maggie Crozat is back home in bayou country during the most magical time of the year. In Pelican, Louisiana, Christmastime is a season of giant bonfires on the levee, zydeco carols, and pots of gumbo. Except, this year, the Grinch has come to stay at the family-run Crozat Plantation B&B. When he floods travel websites with vicious reviews, Maggie thinks she’s identified him as rival businessman Donald Baxter. That is, until he’s found stabbed to death at Maggie’s workplace. And Maggie and her loved ones become top suspects.

The Crozats quickly establish alibis, but Maggie’s boyfriend, Detective Bo Durand, remains under suspicion. With Bo sidelined during the investigation, Maggie finds herself forced to work with an unlikely ally: longtime family enemy Rufus Durand. Her sleuthing uncovers more suspects than drummers drumming, and lands her in the crosshairs of the murderer.

The sleigh bells are jingling, and the clock is ticking for Maggie and Rufus, who must catch the killer or it will be the opposite of a Joyeux Noël in A Cajun Christmas Killing, the recipe-stuffed third installment of USA Today bestselling author Ellen Byron’s Cajun Country mysteries.

A murder or two takes place during the Christmas season at the B&B and once again, Maggie finds herself involved in the investigation to clear her family and those closest to her names and to save their B&B business which sets in motion a visit from her past and a fun-filled and well-written mystery.

I adore this series. This story captured my attention immediately and I could not put this book down. The writing was crisp and flowed so evenly making it easy to follow along with all that was happening in Pelican, Louisiana. The mystery was expertly done, creating a multitude of suspects with clues that kept me digging to identify the culprit and a bonus to the author with how the murder was solved, giving me that aha moment when it became clear as to who the killer was, but then the author added that little twist that enhanced the telling of this tale. The narrative had my mind escaping to the outpost that is New Orleans with its natural atmospheric setting which enlightened the interaction of the various characters and the role of the town. It was good to see Maggie and Ru working together for the greater good. Boasting a wonderful cast of characters, engaging dialogue and small-town feeling, this is one of the best book in this delightfully charming and entertaining series and I can’t wait for their next adventures.

Buy Link


FTC Full Disclosure – I received an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) from the author.

A day in the life of Kaylee by Barbara Fradkin

I’m curled up in bed, spooked by the unfamiliar sounds of morning. The tent walls flap in the wind, tiny paws whisper on the snow, and campers snore in the tents near by. In the distant hills, a wolf howls. My fur rises on my back.

It’s still far from sunrise, but the blackness of night is beginning to fade. Soon the trip leaders will be up, shoving more wood into the woodstove and boiling water for coffee. Soon the delicious smells of oatmeal and maple syrup will fill the air. I love the wilderness. In fact I love just about anywhere as long as I have my beloved Amanda, food, and a stick to fetch. But the nights are long, cold, and boring. I’m stuck in the tent with Amanda, with hardly enough room to turn around, and because she’s afraid of fires, she doesn’t light the woodstove in the corner. I snuggle in her sleeping bag, but each time an animal goes by or the wind whips the branches against the tent, I’m on guard. The woods are alive at night.

My job is to keep Amanda safe and happy. She’s never told me that, but the way she hugs me close when she’s scared and laughs when I do something funny, I know I’m important. She named me Kaylee, which means a lively kitchen party, and she brings me everywhere. She even had a custom trailer made for her motorcycle – lime green to match the bike – so I could go with her on her adventures.

Amanda is brave and passionate, but she’s not fearless. I know something terrible happened to her far away in Africa, before I came into her life, and at night the nightmares still come. Once she hugged me so hard that I had to yelp to wake her up. After a few kisses from me, she started to breathe again. I love to keep her safe.

But I also love to run and play and fetch. On this camping trip, some of the students are afraid of dogs, Amanda says because of scary experiences before they came to Canada, but Jean Charles is always happy to throw a stick for me. He seems lonely and laughs when I bring it back for more. I’m easier to play with than the humans in the group.

Humans think too much. They make life complicated. This little group is from all over the world, but they’re the same age and from the same college. They should all get along, but some days have been tough. Dogs get jealous and suspicious too. We also fight about who’s on top and who gets the most food, the best toys, and the most hugs from our master. But we sort it out with a curled lip or a sidelong glance – no words needed – and a few seconds later, it’s all forgotten. Humans never forget. They remember every snarl and secret look. They imagine things that haven’t even happened yet! And they look for ways to win.

Amanda hopes these kids can put all that aside for the joy of the adventure. Part of my job is to help them forget. I’m not so sure, but luckily for me, I don’t think too much. In fact, I hear Jean Charles waking up. Time to play!


You can read more about Kaylee and Amanda in The Trickster’s Lullaby, the second book in the “Amanda Doucette” mystery series.

A winter camping trip turns deadly as two missing teenagers, a twisted love triangle, and the spectre of radicalism create turmoil in the remote Laurentian wilderness.

Amanda Doucette’s cross-Canada charity tour is in for a cold snap when she organizes a winter camping trip for inner-city young people in the stunning setting of the Laurentian Mountains. With a view to bridging cultural divides, she brings along a mixture of Canadian-born and immigrant youth.

Trouble begins when two of the teenagers disappear into the wilderness during the night: Luc, a French/English-Canadian with a history of drug use, and Yasmina, an adventurous young woman from Iraq who dreams of becoming a human rights lawyer. Although frantic, their parents are strangely secretive amid suspicions of drug use and forbidden romance. But when a local farmer turns up dead and terrorist material is found on Luc’s computer, the dangers turn deadly. Now in a battle against both the elements and police, Amanda and Corporal Chris Tymko discover a far greater web of secrets and deception.

As Amanda races to save the young people from danger, she finds herself fighting for stakes far higher than their own lives.

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About the author
Barbara Fradkin is a retired child psychologist with a fascination for why we turn bad. Besides her short stories and easy-read short novels, she is best known for her gritty, psychological Inspector Green series, which has received two Arthur Ellis Best Novel Awards. However, she recently embarked on a new mystery suspense series featuring international aid worker Amanda Doucette, who battles her own traumatic past to help people in trouble. Amanda’s canine sidekick, Kaylee, is based on one of Barbara’s own dogs.

The series debut, Fire in the Stars, was released in 2016, earning starred reviews, and the second, The Trickster’s Lullaby, is hot off the shelves. Barbara lives in Ottawa. Connect with Barbara at barbarafradkin.com.

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?

KATE FOX:
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.”

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MIRA JAMES:
“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.

* * * * * * * * * *

KATE FOX:
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.

* * * * * * * * * *

MIRA JAMES:
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.

* * * * * * * * * *

KATE FOX:
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.

* * * * * * * * * *

MIRA JAMES:
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.

A day in the life with Thea Kozak by Kate Flora

My immediate crisis was a humongous black Suburban driving too fast in the slow lane by a driver obviously too young, and too stupid, to have been allowed out on a day like this. She’d gone whipping past me moments earlier, cell phone to her ear, and now, having come upon a driver driving slowly and carefully in the slow and careful lane, had discovered she couldn’t shove herself into my lane because it was already occupied by a truck. She’d stomped on her brakes and the resulting chaos was ensuing.

Ah. ABS brakes. The responsive shudder, the car’s pulsing attempts to stop. Good, but not miraculous. The black babe-mobile fishtailed, swung into the breakdown lane, caught a wheel in a wave of slush, and flew back across the lane, heading straight toward me.

Luckily the lane to my left was open, and I steered carefully over the slush ridge and into it, while she squiggled and swirled, missing me by inches and sending drivers careening in all directions. It happened with stunning speed and passed just as quickly when the SUV flew across two lanes and spun out in the snow beyond. The rest of us, grateful to be alive and undamaged, were not minded to stop and help.

There was a rest area ahead. I pulled in and stopped to let my heart rate slow and to unclench my poor burned hands from the steering wheel, thinking I’d sooth myself with a nice café mocha. I noticed other cars from the same almost pile-up pulling in to decompress. I was getting out to get my coffee when the black SUV pulled into the parking space beside me. The stupid young driver got out of the car, still on her phone, laughing as she said, “And I like, spun out and almost ran into like six cars. It was so funny!”

It wasn’t funny. She’d caused fear and misery and put a blight on many people’s days. I very ostentatiously pulled out my phone and snapped a photo of her—yoga pants, Uggs, elaborate model hair that she must have gotten up at four a.m. to style, and a wholly impractical puffy white jacket—and then of her license plate. To the person on the other end, she said, “Hold on,” and to me, “Hey, like what do you think you’re doing?”

She couldn’t, like, tell?

“Taking a picture of your license, and of you. To go with my report to the state police about your reckless driving.”

“Oh, right. Sure you will. Like you really think they’ll care?”

She said into her bejeweled pink phone, “Hey, Shy, I gotta go. Some old bitch is giving me a hard time about my driving.”

Old bitch? I knew this job was aging me, but was it really that bad?

She shoved the phone into an oversized red purse. “Look, lady,” she said, all chin-jutting, butt-twitching attitude, “what’s your problem?”

“My problem? I like people to pay attention when they’re driving. You could have killed someone. You should be ashamed and apologetic, not proud of yourself.”

She waggled her yoga-panted butt and tossed her hair. “You’re like not really going to tell the police, are you?”

“I absolutely am.” I like, really already had.

People had gotten out of their cars and were standing behind me. One said, “Honey, you nearly ran me off the road, and I’ve got a baby in the back.” There was a tremble in her voice. The terror of the experience hadn’t left her. “And I did call the police.”

An older man said, “Girlie, don’t you get it? You can’t drive like that on winter roads.”

“Honestly.” She drew the word out to about six syllables. “It’s no big deal.” A flounce of her hips. Another toss of her hair. “The cops aren’t going to care.”

“I think they might,” I said. “My husband is a state trooper.”

But that wasn’t why I thought the police might take an interest. I’d spotted one of those stealth unmarkeds the police were using. A gray Camaro. The staties were already here.

I gave up on coffee. I walked away from her sputtering, got in my car, and headed back to the turnpike, my fog lights painting the tunnel made by my headlights an eerie yellow. Proving what an old fart I was becoming by wondering how we could turn the world over to her generation, to a kid without the decency to apologize to the woman who’d experienced terrible fear for her baby’s life. Before I got to the exit, the ignorant babe sped by me like she was being chased. And behind her, poised for the right moment to stop her, was a state trooper in a mean gray muscle car.

Sometimes the gods are good.


You can read more about Thea in Death Warmed Over, the eighth book in the “Thea Kozak” mystery series.

Arriving to view what will hopefully be her dream home, Thea Kozak finds her real estate agent, Ginger Stevens, tied to a chair, surrounded by fiery space heaters. Just before the woman dies, she utters the indistinct words: Bobby. So long. Safe. Sorry.

Then a stranger, claiming to be Ginger’s boyfriend, corners Thea, demanding a package that Ginger gave to her, a package Thea never received.

Determined to get justice for Ginger, Thea begins her own investigation. Ginger’s colleagues know little about her, her apartment has been professionally sanitized, Ginger Stevens is the name of a child who died many years ago, and the Maine police have no idea who real-estate agent Ginger Stevens really is.

But Thea is sure the two men following her know Ginger’s true identity, and will stop at nothing to keep her from uncovering the truth behind the woman’s dying words.

Meet Thea
Thea Kozak is a tall, thirty-something woman who consults to private schools. She’s Jane Wayne, the trouble-shooter they call in when there’s a campus crisis. She loves her work, but right now, she’s tired of apartment living and longs for a house, and to find more time in life for her husband and activities other than work. But her dream home is forever tainted when she finds her realtor, Ginger Stevens, tied to a chair, surrounded by glowing space heaters. While she’s trying to help the police figure out who the mystery woman who claimed be Ginger Stevens is, she’s also up to her ears in a crisis at a client school, and heading out on slushy New England roads to help them manage it.

“Maybe it’s because Flora’s books are so thoroughly grounded in reality and accurate in detail that Thea Kozak never really slips the surly bonds of real life –though she sure pushed the envelope. Her exploits smack of the superhuman, but her emotions, thoughts, feelings, reactions and responses are instantly recognizable to the rest of us ordinary beings.” – Carolyn Marsh, editor of the Camden (Maine) Herald

Janet Evanovich says: Thea Kozak is a terrific, in-your-face, stand-up gal in the moving and compelling story of a grown-ups who fail the students in their care. Stephanie Plum and Thea Kozak would have a lot to say to each other.”

S.J. Rozan says: “If you like your heroines smart, brave, tough, and exuberantly aware of the possibilities of the human heart, look no further than Thea Kozak.”

“I’ll follow Thea Kozak anywhere. She is simply one of the most refreshing and original heroines in mystery fiction today. And Kate Flora is the rare, graceful writer who pays close attention to how long it takes the body and the heart to heal.” Laura Lippman, NYT Bestselling Author

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About the author
Maine native and recovering attorney Kate Clark Flora writes true crime, strong women, and police procedurals. Led Astray is her latest Joe Burgess police procedural; Death Warmed Over is her latest Thea Kozak mystery. Her fascination with people’s bad behavior began in the Maine attorney general’s office chasing deadbeat dads and protecting battered children. In addition to her crime fiction, she’s written two true crimes and a memoir with public safety personnel. October will bring Shots Fired: The Myths, Misconceptions, and Misunderstandings About Police-Involved Shootings, co-written with former Portland assistant chief Joseph Loughlin, and a story in a collection entitle, The Obama Inheritance. Flora has been an Edgar, Derringer, Agatha and Anthony finalist and twice won the Maine literary award for crime fiction.

Visit Kate at kateclarkflora.com.

All comments are welcomed.