Author Spotlight – G.A. Brandt


Gary G.A. Brandt grew up in the Finger Lakes Region of New York State, where he played sports, attended various colleges, and received several degrees while raising a family in Rochester, New York and Sarasota, Florida. Brandt worked in the private sector, started and ran his own company, served in the public sector as an elected official and a manager, and worked as an instructor and administrator in higher education. He coached men’s and women’s ice hockey at the high school and college levels, winning a few championships over the years. He is a poet and a published writer in local media and has just published his first novel: As Beautiful As This.

You’ve recently published As Beautiful As This, a story about loyalty & duty to country, self, and family.  What led you to write this book? 

I wrote this story because it has lived in my head and heart for years and many of the parts of this book I lived, personally, and with and through relatives and friends. One cannot have grown up in the post WWII culture of the ’50s as a kid, the ’60s as a student and the ’70s as a young adult, and if you were paying attention, not be deeply impacted by the events in your family, in your relationships and in our institutions. But the most important and the most emotional meaningful event was that my best friend, a U.S. Marine, was killed in action in Vietnam. Both our fathers had been in WWII. He quit college to join the Marines and I stayed in school. I have had the sorrow of losing him inside me for decades. We had planned to be the best man in each others’ weddings. I needed to liberate all that pent-up emotion by writing this story.

How do you build your characters? Do you base them on real people, on bits and pieces of real people, or are they completely fictional? 

All the characters in my book are composite characters of people that I have known, loved and in a few cases, despised. I was careful to not be too specific of who they were from my past, but I know that I was as kind as I could be, but still making their best, and in a few cases, their worst points, evident for the reader.

What was your publishing process like?

The publishing process can be quite overwhelming. I am fortunate. My wife is a retired journalist and she had already written and published three non-fiction books, so for me it was “knock on the door to her office down the hall in our house with any questions.”

Describe a typical writing day for you.

Ha ha ha, we all know that there is no typical writing day. For me I use two rules to write: a.) “don’t go down the rabbit hole” which means don’t start doing just a “little thing” because it always turns out bigger and then eats up your writing time, and b.) I use the Stephen King “AIC” maxim, which is to get my “ass in chair” and start writing.

Who are some of your favorite authors and/or books?

I love Paul Theroux, Robert MacNeil (of PBS Newshour fame), Kenneth Roberts, Jill Ker Conway, Pat Conroy and David Halberstam. My five favorite books are “Dark Star Africa”(Theroux), “Northwest Passage”(Roberts), “The Road from Coorain”(Ker Conway), “The Right Place at the Right Time” (MacNeil) and “The Prince of Tides (Conroy).”

What things influence your writing?

Kindness, moral ambiguity, love and the teamwork best exhibited in athletics, compassionate business associates and the military.

Where do you stand on the oxford comma? My readers want to know! 

The same as I feel about a guy wearing a bow tie: “it you like it, wear it,” “your tie, your rules.”

What do you want readers to experience when they read your work? 

I hope a reader will do two things: a.) understand the issues in the story, and b.) relate to the humanness in the characters. This is where your editor comes in to play the key role in completing a book. It has been said that a writer builds a structure (book) and in building it the writer also puts up scaffolding around the structure to work on it. The editor’s job is to take down all the writer’s scaffolding and expose the finished building/structure for people to see, read, admire.

As Beautiful As This is centered on the Vietnam conflict. Do you have personal experience with that period of history?

Yes. It consumed my youth in questions of war, peace, family, friends, public policy and religious values. And in some ways, it still does. Wars have no end, just all the people who were part of it die away.

What kind of research do you conduct for your books? 

The research depends on the central issues that I write about. In this book, I did extensive research on the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Most of the other events or details in the book came from my life, e.g. I did go to Melvin Belli’s office in San Francisco, and I did stay in the Stinson Beach house that Janice Joplin once rented, and I have spent much time in Toronto and Cape Cod, and I have owned a sailboat.

If you are an author and would like to be featured here, please contact me at patricia.uttaro @ gmail(dot)com.

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner


A forgotten history. A secret network of women. A legacy of poison and revenge.

Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries.

Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time. -From the Publisher

It’s been awhile since a story intrigued me like this one. The juxtaposed stories of the apothecary in the 17th century and the woman in the 21st century blend really nicely, although I will confess I was more interested in the apothecary’s story and the action taking place there.

The 21st century characters are definitely of the time – a little whiny, self-absorbed, and feeling unfulfilled – while the 17th century characters seem to pop. I definitely got the feeling the author enjoyed writing the apothecary’s story more! Nella and Eliza, and even the Lady Clarence, blaze off the page, while I was left with little sympathy for our modern day characters.

Overall, though, this is a captivating and fast-paced story that will appeal to fans of historical fiction.

Publication Date: March 2, 2021
Published By: Park Row
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Turncoat’s Widow by Mally Becker

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The Turncoat's Widow by Mally Becker Banner

The Turncoat’s Widow

by Mally Becker

February 22 – March 19, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

The Turncoat's Widow by Mally Becker

Recently widowed, Rebecca Parcell is too busy struggling to maintain her farm in Morristown to care who wins the War for Independence. But rumors are spreading in 1780 that she’s a Loyalist sympathizer who betrayed her husband to the British—quite a tidy way to end her disastrous marriage, the village gossips whisper.

Everyone knows that her husband was a Patriot, a hero who died aboard a British prison ship moored in New York Harbor. But “everyone” is wrong. Parcell was a British spy, and General Washington – who spent two winters in Morristown – can prove it. He swears he’ll safeguard Becca’s farm if she unravels her husband’s secrets. With a mob ready to exile her or worse in the winter of 1780, it’s an offer she can’t refuse.

Escaped British prisoner of war Daniel Alloway was the last person to see Becca’s husband alive, and Washington throws this unlikely couple together on an espionage mission to British-occupied New York City. Moving from glittering balls to an underworld of brothels and prisons, Becca and Daniel uncover a plot that threatens the new country’s future. But will they move quickly enough to warn General Washington? And can Becca, who’s lost almost everyone she loves, fight her growing attraction to Daniel, a man who always moves on?

Fans of historical fiction will certainly enjoy this gripping tale of intrigue, betrayal, and romance. While I am no American Revolution scholar, the author seems to have done her research and has presented a story true to the time, peopled with characters who both appeal and repel. The storytelling is skillful, and the author builds suspense while keeping a secret right till the end.

There are a lot of characters to keep track of, which might deter a casual reader. However, the action involving the main characters remains constant and can easily keep a reader engaged. This could also appeal to upper level middle school and high school readers.

Recommended.

Praise for The Turncoat’s Widow

The Turncoat’s Widow has it all. A sizzling romance, meticulous research, and an exhilarating adventure. Becca Parcell is too independent for both 18th-century Morristown and her feckless English husband. Her individual plight when she is pressed into service as an unwilling spy after her husband’s death reflects the larger situation of colonists during the American Revolution, whose lives were upended by a political fight they cared nothing about. Becker balances the ruthlessness of George Washington and the underhanded charm of Alexander Hamilton with the excesses of the British, as part of a detailed picture of how the colonies were governed during a war that was far from a simple fight between two opposing nations. But historical exactitude is balanced by dashing romance between Becca and Daniel Alloway, the escaped prisoner charged with protecting her, and plot full of bold escapes and twists. A great series debut. I can’t wait for the next installment.
– Erica Obey, author, Dazzle Paint (coming 02/2021), The Curse of the Braddock Brides, and The Horseman’s Word.

An exciting Revolutionary-era thriller with a twisty mystery, great characters, and historical accuracy to boot.
– Eleanor Kuhns,author of the Will Rees mysteries

The Turncoat’s Widow reminds readers that treachery from within and without to our republic were real, and those early days for American independence from the British were fragile, the patriot cause, unpopular. This is a rousing debut novel with insights into the hardships of colonial life, the precarious place of women in society, while giving fans of historical fiction a tale with suspense, surprises, and anoutspoken and admirable heroine in Becca Parcell. Mally Becker is an author to watch.
– Gabriel Valjan, Agatha and Anthony-nominated author of The Naming Game

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Suspense / Mystery
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: February 16, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-953789-27-3
Purchase Links: Amazon || Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Morristown – January 1780

There was a nervous rustling in the white-washed meeting house, a disturbance of air like the sound of sparrows taking wing.

Becca Parcell peered over the balcony’s rough, wood railing, blinking away the fog of half-sleep. She had been dreaming of the figures in her account book and wondering whether there would be enough money for seed this spring.

“I didn’t hear what ….” she whispered to Philip’s mother.

Lady Augusta Georgiana Stokes Parcell, known simply as Lady Augusta, covered Becca’s hand with her own. “Philip. They’re speaking of Philip.”

Becca couldn’t tell whether it was her hand or Augusta’s that trembled.

“The Bible says, if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee, does it not?” The preacher’s voice was soft, yet it carried to every corner of the congregation. “They’re here. Amongst us. Neighbors who toast the King behind closed doors. Neighbors with no love of liberty.”

Philip was a Patriot. He had died a hero. Everyone knew. Minister Townsend couldn’t be talking about him.

The minister raised his eyes to hers. With his long thin arms and legs and round belly, he reminded her of a spider. She twisted her lips into the semblance of a smile as if to say “you don’t scare me.” But he did.

“Which of your neighbors celebrates each time a Patriot dies?” Townsend’s voice rose like smoke to the rafters, took on strength and caught fire. “Their presence here is an abomination.” He rapped the podium with a flat palm, the sound bruising in the quiet church. “Then cast them out. Now.”

Men pounded the floor with their feet.

Becca flinched. It wouldn’t take much to tip the congregation into violence. Everyone had lost someone or something to this endless war. It had been going on for almost five years.

Townsend’s thin arm rose, pointing to her.

Becca’s breath caught.

“And what of widows like Mrs. Parcell? Left alone, no longer guided by the wise direction of their husbands.”

Guided? Becca pulled her hand from Augusta’s. She rubbed her thumb along the palm of her hand, feeling the rough calluses stamped there. She had learned the rhythm of the scythe at the end of the summer, how to twist and swing low until her hands were so stiff that she’d struggle to free them from the handle. She’d fallen into a dreamless sleep each night during the harvest too exhausted even to dream of Philip. She, Augusta and their servant Annie were doing just fine.

“He hardly slept at home, as I hear it,” a woman behind her sniffed to a neighbor.

Becca’s spine straightened.

“No wonder there were no babes,” the second woman murmured.

Becca twisted and nodded a smile to Mrs. Huber and Mrs. Harrington. Their mouths pursed into surprised tight circles. She’d heard them murmur, their mouths hidden by fluttering fans: About her lack of social graces; her friendship with servants; her awkward silence in company. “What else could you expect from her?” they would say, snapping shut their fans.

Relief washed through Becca, nonetheless. This was merely the old gossip, not the new rumors.

“Some of you thought Mr. Parcell was just another smuggler.” The pastor’s voice boomed.

A few in the congregation chuckled. It was illegal to sell food to the British in New York – the “London Trade” some called it — but most turned a blind eye. Even Patriots need hard currency to live, Becca recalled Philip saying.

“He only married her for the dowry,” Mrs. Huber hissed.

Becca’s hand curved into a fist.

Augusta cleared her throat, and Becca forced herself to relax.

“Perhaps some of you thought Mr. Parcell was still a Tory,” the minister said.

The chuckling died.

“He came to his senses, though. He was, after all, one of us,” Minister Townsend continued.

One of us. Invitations from the finer families had trickled away after Philip’s death.

“We all know his story,” Townsend continued. “He smuggled whiskey into New York City. And what a perfect disguise his aristocratic roots provided.” The minister lifted his nose in the air as if mimicking a dandy.
“The British thought he was one of them, at least until the end.” The minister’s voice swooped as if telling a story around a campfire. “He brought home information about the British troops in the City.”

Becca shifted on the bench. She hadn’t known about her husband’s bravery until after his death. It had baffled her. Philip never spoke of politics.

Townsend lifted one finger to his chin as if he had a new thought. “But who told the British where Mr. Parcell would be on the day he was captured? Who told the Redcoats that Mr. Parcell was a spy for independence?”

Becca forgot to breathe. He wouldn’t dare.

“It must have been someone who knew him well.” The minister’s gaze moved slowly through the congregation and came to rest on Becca. His eyes were the color of creosote, dark and burning. “Very, very well.”
Mrs. Coddington, who sat to Becca’s left, pulled the hem of her black silk gown close to avoid contact. Men in the front pews swiveled and stared.

“I would never. I didn’t.” Becca’s corset gouged her ribcage.

“Speak up, Mrs. Parcell. We can’t hear you,” the minister said in a singsong voice.

Townsend might as well strip her naked before the entire town. Respectable women didn’t speak in public. He means to humiliate me.

“Stand up, Mrs. Parcell.” His voice boomed. “We all want to hear.”

She didn’t remember standing. But there she was, the fingers of her right hand curled as it held the hunting bow she’d used since she was a child. Becca turned back to the minister. “Hogwash.” If they didn’t think she was a lady, she need not act like one. “Your independence is a wickedly unfair thing if it lets you accuse me without proof.”

Gasps cascaded throughout the darkening church.

From the balcony, where slaves and servants sat, she heard two coughs, explosive as gun fire. She twisted. Carl scowled down at her in warning. His white halo of hair, fine as duckling feathers, seemed to stand on end. He had worked for her father and helped to raise her. He had taught her numbers and mathematics. She couldn’t remember life without him.

“Accuse? Accuse you of what, Mrs. Parcell?” The minister opened his arms to the congregation. “What have we accused you of?”

Becca didn’t feel the chill now. “Of killing my husband. If this is what your new nation stands for – neighbors accusing neighbors, dividing us with lies – I’ll have none of it. “Five years into this endless war, is anyone better off for Congress’ Declaration of Independence? Independence won’t pay for food. It won’t bring my husband home.”

It was as if she’d burst into flames. “What has the war brought any of us? Heartache, is all. Curse your independence. Curse you for ….”

Augusta yanked on Becca’s gown with such force that she teetered, then rocked back onto the bench.

The church erupted in shouts, a crashing wave of sound meant to crush her.

Becca’s breath came in short puffs. What had she done?

“Now that’s just grief speaking, gentlemen. Mrs. Parcell is still mourning her husband. No need to get worked up.” The voice rose from the front row. She recognized Thomas Lockwood’s slow, confident drawl.
She craned her neck to watch Thomas, with his wheat-colored hair and wide shoulders. His broad stance reminded her of a captain at the wheel. He was a gentleman, a friend of General Washington. They’ll listen to him, she thought.

“Our minister doesn’t mean to accuse Mrs. Parcell of anything, now do you, sir?”

The two men stared at each other. A minister depended on the good will of gentlemen like Thomas Lockwood.
The pastor blinked first. He shook his head.

Becca’s breathing slowed.

“There now. As I said.” Lockwood’s voice calmed the room.

Then Mr. Baldwin stood slowly. Wrinkles crisscrossed his cheeks. He’d sent his three boys to fight with the Continental Army in ’75. Only one body came home to be buried. The other two were never found. He pointed at Becca with fingers twisted by arthritis. “Mrs. Parcell didn’t help when the women raised money for the soldiers last month.”

A woman at the end of Becca’s pew sobbed quietly. It was Mrs. Baldwin.

“You didn’t invite me.” Becca searched the closed faces for proof that someone believed her.

“Is she on our side or theirs?” another woman called.

The congregation quieted again. But it was the charged silence between two claps of thunder, and the Assembly waited for a fresh explosion in the dim light of the tired winter afternoon.

With that, Augusta’s imperious voice sliced through the silence: “Someone help my daughter-in-law. She’s not well. I believe she’s about to faint.”

Becca might be rash, but she wasn’t stupid, and she knew a command when she heard one. She shut her eyes and fell gracelessly into the aisle. Her head and shoulder thumped against the rough pine floorboards.

Mrs. Coddington gasped. So did Becca, from the sharp pain in her cheek and shoulder.

Women in the surrounding rows scooted back in surprise, their boots shuffling with a shh-shh sound.

“Lady Augusta,” Mrs. Coddington huffed.

Independence be damned. All of Morristown seemed to enjoy using Augusta’s family title, her former title, as often as possible.

“Lady Augusta,” she repeated. “I’ve had my suspicions about that girl since the day she married your son. I don’t know why you haven’t sent her back to her people.”

“She has no ‘people,’ Mrs. Coddington. She has me,” Augusta’s voice was as frosty as the air in the church. “And if I had doubts about Rebecca, do you think I’d live with her?”

Becca imagined Augusta’s raised eyebrows, her delicate lifted chin. She couldn’t have borne it if her mother-in-law believed the minister’s lies.

Augusta’s featherlight touch stroked her forehead. “Well done,” she murmured. “Now rise slowly. And don’t lean on me. I might just topple over.”

“We are eager to hear the rest of the service on this Sabbath day, Minister Townsend. Do continue,” Thomas Lockwood called.

Becca stood, her petite mother-in-law’s arm around her waist. The parishioners at the edges of the aisles averted their eyes as the two women passed.

As they stepped into the stark, brittle daylight, one last question shred the silence they left behind: “Do you think she turned her husband over to the British?”

Someone else answered. “It must be true. Everyone says so.

***

Excerpt from The Turncoat’s Widow by Mally Becker. Copyright 2021 by Mally Becker. Reproduced with permission from Mally Becker. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Mally Becker

Mally Becker is a writer whose historical suspense novel, The Turncoat’s Widow, will be published in February 2021 by Level Best Books. She was born in Brooklyn and began her professional career in New York City as a publicist and freelance magazine writer, then moved on, becoming an attorney and, later, an advocate for children in foster care.

As a volunteer, she used her legal background to create a digest of letters from US Supreme Court Justices owned by the Morristown National Park. That’s where she found a copy of an indictment for the Revolutionary War crime of traveling from New Jersey to New York City “without permission or passport.” It led her to the idea for her story.

A winner of the Leon B. Burstein/MWA-NY Scholarship for Mystery Writing, Mally lives with her husband in the wilds of New Jersey where they hike, kayak, look forward to visits from their son, and poke around the region’s historical sites.

Catch Up With Mally Becker On:
www.MallyBecker.com
Goodreads<!–
BookBub
/–>
Instagram – @mallybeckerwrites
Twitter – @mally_becker
Facebook – Mally Baumel Becker

 

 

Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways.

02/22 Review @ @ lovemybooks2020
02/23 Showcase @ nanasbookreviews
02/24 Guest post @ Novels Alive
02/25 Showcase @ Im All About Books
02/26 Guest post @ Nesies Place
02/26 Interview @ A Blue Million Books
02/27 Guest post @ The Book Divas Reads
02/27 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
02/28 Review @ Geauxgetlit
03/01 Review @ Books, Ramblings, and Tea
03/02 Review @ @ rozierreadsandwine
03/03 Review @ It’s All About the Book
03/03 Showcase @ 411 ON BOOKS, AUTHORS, AND PUBLISHING NEWS
03/03 Showcase @ The Pulp and Mystery Shelf
03/04 Review @ Avonna Loves Genres
03/05 Review @ Lauras Interests
03/05 Showcase @ Eclectic Moods
03/06 Review @ History from a Woman’s Perspective
03/07 Interview @ Author Elena Taylors Blog
03/08 Showcase @ The Bookwyrm
03/09 Review @ Books and Zebras @ jypsylynn
03/10 Review @ The Book Connection
03/11 Interview/showcase @ CMash Reads
03/12 Showcase @ Archaeolibrarian – I Dig Good Books!
03/15 Review @ Quiet Fury Books
03/16 Showcase @ Celticladys Reviews
03/18 Review @ A Room Without Books is Empty
03/19 Review @ Just Reviews

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

 

 

Get More Great Reads at Partners In Crime Virtual Book Tours

 

The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book by Kate Milford


Nothing is what it seems and there’s always more than one side to the story as a group of strangers trapped in an inn slowly reveal their secrets in this new standalone mystery set in the world of the best-selling Greenglass House, from a National Book Award nominee and Edgar Award–winning author.

The rain hasn’t stopped for a week, and the twelve guests of the Blue Vein Tavern are trapped by flooded roads and the rising Skidwrack River. Among them are a ship’s captain, tattooed twins, a musician, and a young girl traveling on her own. To pass the time, they begin to tell stories—each a different type of folklore—that eventually reveal more about their own secrets than they intended.

As the rain continues to pour down—an uncanny, unnatural amount of rain—the guests begin to realize that the entire city is in danger, and not just from the flood. But they have only their stories, and one another, to save them. Will it be enough?

Kate Milford’s Nagspeake series has been one of my favorites for the last few years. She has built a vibrant, mysterious, and wholly unique world in which her characters move in seemingly disconnected paths and times.

The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book is the string that winds it all together.

Readers of the Nagspeake books first encounter the Raconteur’s book in Green Glass House as a book being read by the protagonist, Milo. Here, we actually get to know the people in the book – their secrets, their talents, their imaginations, their deceptions, and their hearts.

Essentially a book a short stories, fables even, glued together with an overarching people-stuck-in-a-house-by-impending-disaster trope, Raconteur pulls threads from each of the earlier Nagspeake books, giving the reader pleasant memories of past reading experiences.

As a fan of Milford’s books, I enjoyed this immensely; however, if this is your first entry into Nagspeake, stop and go right to your library and get Green Glass House, then read all the books. I can’t recommend an order (even Milford can’t do that and she tries here https://clockworkfoundry.com/faq/in-what-order-should-i-read/), but read them all, then pick up Raconteur and enjoy the ride, or better yet – share it with the middle grade reader in your life!

Publication Date: February 23, 2021
Published By: Clarion Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Death in Tranquility by Sharon Linnea

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Death In Tranquility by Sharon Linnéa Banner

Death In Tranquility

by Sharon Linnéa

February 1-28, 2021 Tour

Synopsis:

Death In Tranquility by Sharon Linnea

No one talks to the cops. Everyone talks to the bartender. And Avalon Nash is one hell of a bartender.

Avalon is on the run from her life in Los Angeles. Having a drink while waiting to change trains in the former Olympic town of Tranquility, New York, she discovers the freshly murdered bartender at MacTavish’s. A bartender herself, she’s offered the position with the warning he wasn’t the first MacTavish’s bartender to meet a violent end.

Avalon’s superpower is collecting people’s stories, and she’s soon embroiled in the lives of artists, politicians, ghost hunters and descendants of Old Hollywood.

Can Avalon outrun the ghosts of her past, catch the ghosts of Tranquility’s past and outsmart a murderer?

The first book in the Bartender’s Guide to Murder series offers chills, laughs, and 30 of the best drink recipes ever imbibed.

If you’re looking for a new, fun mystery series, this is it. There’s death, but very little horror and gore, making this a “cozy” mystery with a little bit of romance and sass mixed in. The location is a thinly disguised Lake Placid NY which is populated with a good mix of quirky, interesting, and ordinary characters who help push the story along. New Yorkers will appreciate this. I know I did – I’ve been in that popcorn shop!

Main character Avalon is a semi-relatable protagonist (her backstory is anything but ordinary) who is written with enough panache to make me want to read more of her adventures. That the book is peppered with some really delicious cocktail recipes is an added bonus and one that would make this an ideal pick for a mystery book club that features drinks! For me, another bonus is the plotline involving old Hollywood, which is one of my favorite things. The story moves along at a good pace with just the right amount of suspense, leading to a satisfying ending.

Recommended!

Book Details

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Arundel Publishing
Publication Date: September 29th 2020
Number of Pages: 323
ISBN: 9781933608 (ISBN13: 9781933608150)
Series: Bartender’s Guide to Murder, 1 (Click here to check out other books in the series!)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | The Bookstore Plus | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

Death in the Afternoon

“Whenever you see the bartender, I’d like another drink,” I said, lifting my empty martini glass and tipping it to Marta, the waitress with teal hair.

“Everyone wants another drink,” she said, “but Joseph’s missing. I can’t find him. Anywhere.”

“How long has he been gone?” I asked.

“About ten minutes. It’s not like him. Joseph would never just go off without telling me.”

That’s when I should have done it. I should have put down forty bucks to cover my drink and my meal and left that magical, moody, dark-wood paneled Scottish bar and sauntered back across the street to the train station to continue on my way.

If I had, everything would be different.

Instead I nodded, grateful for a reason to stand up. A glance at my watch told me over half an hour remained until my connecting train chugged in across the street. I could do Marta a solid by finding the bartender and telling him drink orders were stacking up.

Travelling from Los Angeles to New York City by rail, I had taken the northern route, which required me to change trains in the storied village of Tranquility, New York. Once detrained, the posted schedule had informed me should I decide to bolt and head north for Montreal, I could leave within the hour. The train heading south for New York City, however, would not be along until 4 p.m.

Sometimes in life you think it’s about where you’re going, but it turns out to be about where you change trains.

It was an April afternoon; the colors on the trees and bushes were still painting from the watery palate of spring. Here and there, forsythia unfurled in insistent bursts of golden glory.

I needed a drink.

Tranquility has been famous for a long time. Best known for hosting the Winter Olympics back in 19-whatever, it was an eclectic blend of small village, arts community, ski mecca, gigantic hotels and Olympic facilities. Certainly there was somewhere a person could get lunch.

Perched on a hill across the street from the station sat a shiny, modern hotel of the upscale chain variety. Just down the road, father south, was a large, meandering, one-of-a-kind establishment called MacTavish’s Seaside Cottage. It looked nothing like a cottage, and, as we were inland, there were no seas. I doubted the existence of a MacTavish.

I headed over at once.

The place evoked a lost inn in Brigadoon. A square main building of a single story sent wings jutting off at various angles into the rolling hills beyond. Floor-to-ceiling windows made the lobby bright and airy. A full suit of armor stood guard over the check-in counter, while a sculpture of two downhill skiers whooshed under a skylight in the middle of the room.

Behind the statue was the Breezy, a sleek restaurant overlooking Lake Serenity (Lake Tranquility was in the next town over, go figure). The restaurant’s outdoor deck was packed with tourists on this balmy day, eating and holding tight to their napkins, lest they be lost to the murky depths.

Off to the right—huddled in the vast common area’s only dark corner—was a small door with a carved, hand-painted wooden sign which featured a large seagoing vessel plowing through tumultuous waves. That Ship Has Sailed, it read. A tavern name if I ever heard one.

Beyond the heavy door, down a short dark-wood hallway, in a tall room lined with chestnut paneling, I paused to let my eyes adjust to the change in light, atmosphere, and, possibly, century.

The bar was at a right angle as you entered, running the length of the wall. It was hand-carved and matched the back bar, which held 200 bottles, easily.

A bartender’s dream, or her undoing.

Two of the booths against the far wall were occupied, as were two of the center tables.

I sat at the bar.

Only one other person claimed a seat there during this low time between meal services. He was a tall gentleman with a square face, weathered skin, and dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. I felt his cold stare as I perused the menu trying to keep to myself. I finally gave up and stared back.

“Flying Crow,” he said. “Mohawk Clan.”

“Avalon,” I said. “Train changer.”

I went back to my menu, surprised to find oysters were a featured dish.

“Avalon?” he finally said. “That’s—”

“An odd name,” I answered. “I know. Flying Crow? You’re in a Scottish pub.”

“Ask him what Oswego means.” This was from the bartender, a lanky man with salt-and-pepper hair. “Oh, but place your order first.”

“Are the oysters good?” I asked.

“Oddly, yes. One of the best things on the menu. Us being seaside, and all.”

“All right, then. Oysters it is. And a really dry vodka martini, olives.”

“Pimento, jalapeño, or bleu cheese?”

“Ooh, bleu cheese, please.” I turned to Flying Crow. “So what does Oswego mean?”

“It means, ‘Nothing Here, Give It to the Crazy White Folks.’ Owego, on the other hand means, ‘Nothing Here Either.’”

“How about Otego? And Otsego and Otisco?”

His eyebrow raised. He was impressed by my knowledge of obscure town names in New York State. “They all mean, ‘We’re Just Messing with You Now.’”

“Hey,” I said, raising my newly delivered martini. “Thanks for coming clean.”

He raised his own glass of firewater in return.

“Coming clean?” asked the bartender, and he chuckled, then dropped his voice. “If he’s coming clean, his name is Lesley.”

“And you are?” I asked. He wasn’t wearing a name tag.

“Joseph.”

“Skål,” I said, raising my glass. “Glad I found That Ship Has Sailed.”

“That’s too much of a mouthful,” he said, flipping over the menu. “Everyone calls it the Battened Hatch.”

“But the Battened Hatch isn’t shorter. Still four syllables.”

“Troublemaker,” muttered Lesley good-naturedly. “I warned you.”

“Fewer words,” said Joseph with a smile that included crinkles by his eyes. “Fewer capital letters over which to trip.”

As he spoke, the leaded door banged open and two men in chinos and shirtsleeves arrived, talking loudly to each other. The door swung again, just behind them, admitting a stream of ten more folks—both women and men, all clad in business casual. Some were more casual than others. One man with silvering hair actually wore a suit and tie; another, a white artist’s shirt, his blonde hair shoulder-length. The women’s garments, too, ran the gamut from tailored to flowing. One, of medium height, even wore a white blouse, navy blue skirt and jacket, finished with hose and pumps. And a priest’s collar.

“Conventioneers?” I asked Joseph. Even as I asked, I knew it didn’t make sense. No specific corporate culture was in evidence.

He laughed. “Nah. Conference people eat at the Blowy. Er, Breezy. Tranquility’s Chamber of Commerce meeting just let out.” His grey eyes danced. “They can never agree on anything, but their entertainment quotient is fairly high. And they drive each other to drink.”

Flying Crow Lesley shook his head.

Most of the new arrivals found tables in the center of the room. Seven of them scooted smaller tables together, others continued their conversations or arguments in pairs.

“Marta!” Joseph called, leaning through a door in the back wall beside the bar.

The curvy girl with the teal hair, nose and eyebrow rings and mega eye shadow clumped through. Her eyes widened when she saw the influx of patrons.

Joseph slid the grilled oysters with fennel butter in front of me. “Want anything else before the rush?” He indicated the well-stocked back bar.

“I’d better hold off. Just in case there’s a disaster and I end up having to drive the train.”

He nodded knowingly. “Good luck with that.”

I took out my phone, then re-pocketed it. I wanted a few more uncomplicated hours before re-entering the real world. Turning to my right, I found that Flying Crow had vanished. In his stead, several barstools down, sat a Scotsman in full regalia: kilt, Bonnie Prince Charlie jacket and a fly plaid. It was predominantly red with blue stripes.

Wow. Mohawk clan members, Scotsmen, and women priests in pantyhose. This was quite a town.

Joseph was looking at an order screen, and five drinks in different glasses were already lined up ready for Marta to deliver.

My phone buzzed. I checked caller i.d. Fought with myself. Answered.

Was grabbed by tentacles of the past.

When I looked up, filled with emotions I didn’t care to have, I decided I did need another drink; forget driving the train.

The line of waiting drink glasses was gone, as were Marta and Joseph.

I checked the time. I’d been in Underland for fifteen minutes, twenty at the most. It was just past three. I had maybe forty-five minutes before I should move on.

That was when Marta swung through the kitchen door, her head down to stave off the multiple calls from the center tables. She stood in front of me, punching information into the point of sale station, employing the NECTM—No Eye Contact Tactical Maneuver.

That’s when she told me Joseph was missing.

“Could he be in the restroom?”

“I asked Arthur when he came out, but he said there was nobody else.”

I nodded at Marta and started by going out through the front hall, to see if perhaps he’d met someone in the lobby. As I did a lap, I overheard a man at check-in ask, “Is it true the inn is haunted?”

“Do you want it to be?” asked the clerk, nonplussed.

But no sign of the bartender.

I swung back through into the woodsy-smelling darkness of the Battened Hatch, shook my head at the troubled waitress, then walked to the circular window in the door. The industrial kitchen was white and well-lit, and as large as it was, I could see straight through the shared kitchen to the Breezy. No sign of Joseph. I turned my attention back to the bar.

Beyond the bar, there was a hallway to the restrooms, and another wooden door that led outside. I looked back at Marta and nodded to the door.

“It doesn’t go anywhere,” she said. “It’s only a little smoker’s deck.”

I wondered if Joseph smoked, tobacco or otherwise. Certainly the arrival of most of a Chamber of Commerce would suggest it to me. I pushed on the wooden door. It seemed locked. I gave it one more try, and, though it didn’t open, it did budge a little bit.

This time I went at it with my full shoulder. There was a thud, and it wedged open enough that I could slip through.

It could hardly be called a deck. You couldn’t put a table—or even a lounge chair—out there.

Especially with the body taking up so much of the space.

It was Joseph. I knelt quickly and felt for a pulse at his neck, but it was clear he was inanimate. He was sitting up, although my pushing the door open had made him lean at an angle. I couldn’t tell if the look on his face was one of pain or surprise. There was some vomit beside him on the deck, and a rivulet down his chin. I felt embarrassed to be seeing him this way.

Crap. He was always nice to me. Well, during the half an hour I’d known him, he had been nice to me.

What was it with me discovering corpses? It was certainly a habit of which I had to break myself.

Meanwhile, what to do? Should I call in the priest? But she was within a group, and it would certainly start a panic. Call 911?

Yes, that would be good. That way they could decide to call the hospital or the police or both.

My phone was back in my purse.

And, you know what? I didn’t want the call to come from me. I was just passing through.

I pulled the door back open and walked to Marta behind the bar. “Call 911,” I said softly. “I found Joseph.”

It took the ambulance and the police five minutes to arrive. The paramedics went through first, then brought a gurney around outside so as to not freak out everyone in the hotel. They loaded Joseph on and sped off, in case there was anything to be done.

I knew there wasn’t.

The police, on the other hand, worked at securing the place which might become a crime scene. They blocked all the doorways and announced no one could leave.

I was still behind the bar with Marta. She was shaking.

“Give me another Scotch,” said the Scotsman seated there.

I looked at the bottles and was pleasantly surprised by the selection. “I think this calls for Black Maple Hill,” I said, only mildly surprised at my reflexive tendency to upsell. The Hill was a rich pour but not the absolute priciest.

He nodded. I poured.

I’m not sure if it was Marta’s tears, or the fact we weren’t allowed to leave, but local bigwigs had realized something was amiss.

“Excuse me,” the man in the suit came to the bar. “Someone said Joseph is dead.”

“Yes,” I said. “He does seem to be.”

Marta swung out of the kitchen, her eyeliner half down her face. “Art, these are your oysters,” she said to the man. He took them.

“So,” he continued, and I wondered what meaningful words he’d have to utter. “You’re pouring drinks?”

It took only a moment to realize that, were I the owner of this establishment, I’d find this a great opportunity.

“Seems so,” I said.

“What goes with oysters?” he asked.

That was a no-brainer. I’d spied the green bottle of absinthe while having my own meal. I poured about three tablespoons into the glass. I then opened a bottle of Prosecco, poured it, and waited for the milky cloud to form.

He took a sip, looked at me, and raised the glass. “If I want another of these, what do I ask for?”

As he asked, I realized I’d dispensed one of Ernest Hemingway’s favorite libations. “Death in the Afternoon,” I replied.

He nodded and went back to his table.

It was then I realized I wasn’t going to make my train.

* *

Ernest Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon

Ingredients

• 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) absinthe
• ½ to ¾ cup (4 to 6 ounces) cold Champagne or sparkling wine

Method

Hemmingway’s advice, circa 1935: “Pour one jigger absinthe into a Champagne glass. Add iced Champagne until it attains the proper opalescent milkiness. Drink three to five of these slowly.”

Chapter 2

No Known Address

Since I found the body, I got to talk to the lead investigator.

He was in his mid-thirties, just under six feet, walnut skin, black hair cut short. He would have benefitted from a beard. He looked ripped; the king of ripped you got from taking out your frustrations in the gym. His demeanor was no-nonsense.

“Investigator Spaulding,” he said, and he pulled out a notebook. “State Police.”

“State Police? Isn’t that the same as State Troopers? Don’t you manage highways?”

He stopped writing in his small, leather-covered notebook and looked up.

“Common misconception. The local P.D. is small—only 9 on staff. When something big happens, they ask for assistance.”

“They ask?”

“It’s a dance.”

I wasn’t a suspect (yet), so he didn’t need to write down my stats, but I could read upside down as he made notes. He asked my name, and began guessing at the rest. Nash, Avalon. Female. Caucasian. Blonde hair. 5’7 was his guess at my height. The next thing he wrote down could go seriously south, so I said, “healthy weight.”

He looked up.

“5’7” and at a healthy weight,” I supplied. “If I’m charged with something, we’ll get more specific.”

“Age?”

Did he really need to know all of this? “Twenties,” I said, waiting to see if he’d have the gall to object. He didn’t.

“Best way to reach you?”

I gave him my cell number.

“Permanent address?”

“I don’t have one.”

He looked up.

“I’m in the process of moving from California to New York. I’m only in town to change trains. I don’t have a New York address yet.”

“A relative’s address?”

I held up my phone. “This is your golden ticket,” I said. “If you want to reach me, this is it.”

I saw him write ‘no known address.’ Yep, that pretty much summed it up. I glanced at my watch. Seven minutes until my train pulled into—and, soon after, departed from—the station.

“Um, Detective,” I started.

“Investigator Spaulding,” he corrected.

“Investigator Spaulding, my train is about to arrive. I don’t know anything except what I’ve told you. I came in for a drink and helped Marta find the bartender, whom I hope died of a massive heart attack—well, of natural causes. You know what I mean.”

At that point, his phone buzzed and he gave me a just-a-minute finger. He answered, listened for a while, and started to write. Then he hung up, flipped his notebook shut and said, “I can’t let you leave. He was murdered.”

“Great,” I said, the tone somewhere between rueful and intrigued, as I headed back toward Marta, then I turned back toward Investigator Spaulding. “Can I continue to pour drinks?”

He considered less than a moment. “By all means, serve truth serum to anyone who will imbibe.”

Then he turned and walked toward the other officers.

I went to stand with Marta behind the bar. In my imagination, I heard the train chug in across the street.

Investigator Spaulding cleared his throat, and the room went silent. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he said. “This is now a homicide investigation.” He had to pause as everyone shuffled or gasped, or cried out. “Please do not leave until we have taken your statement.”

A woman in her fifties came and sat down in front of me at the bar. Her hair was in a no-fuss bob, she wore a free-flowing skirt with a linen jacket, both of which were in style twenty years ago, but they worked on her. “Got anything stronger than those Death things?” she asked. “I’m not big on Champagne.”

“Sure.” I said. I sized her up. “Layers in a martini glass work for you?”

“Honey, it’s the strength, not the glass.” She looked shaken and sad. I went for the rums and found Malibu Black, the stronger brother of the original. What a bartender Joseph must have been! I decided to try something new. Malibu Black, mango pineapple vodka, and pineapple juice. I mixed it over ice, shook, and poured. I sank some Chambord and topped it with Jägermeister Spice.

“See if this does it,” I said.

Her hand shook slightly as she held up the glass, appreciated the layers, and then took a sip. The jury was out. She took another. She nodded and smiled.

It occurred to me that everyone in the room knew Joseph. They’d lost one of their own.

Another woman in skinny white pants and a white shell with a fancy pink sports jacket came and sat next to her. They were about the same age, if I had to guess, but the new woman was thin as a rail, muscular, and with her blonde hair in a ponytail. I was guessing she colored her hair not from a darker shade, but to cover the white. The two women embraced. “Suzanne,” said the new arrival.

“Gillian,” said no-fuss-bob Suzanne. Then, “Can’t believe it.”

“I can’t, either,” replied hard-bodied Gillian. She had the remains of an Eastern European accent. They sat a respectful moment. “What are you drinking?”

Suzanne looked at me. “No Known Address,” I said.

“Okay,” Gillian said. “I’ll have one.” She then turned and I was dismissed to my task.

“I can’t believe it. One of the only straight, available guys between forty and crotchety, and he’s gone!” said Suzanne.

“There’s Mike,” Gillian said, tilting her head toward the state police investigator. “And I’m not sure Joseph was available.”

“First, really? Maybe if he worked out. Second, you or I crook our little fingers and get a guy away from Sophie.” They both looked back, shooting daggers toward one of the three women in the center wall booth. I knew which must be Sophie, as one of them was crying copiously while the other two petted her solicitously.

“And do we have a suspect?” asked pink jacket Gillian.

This time, they looked at a younger woman who sat at a table with two newly arrived Chamber men. She was gorgeous—skin the color of chai latte and hair as dark as a sky at new moon. She was staring off into space.

I almost said, “You know I can hear you.” But maids, taxi drivers, and bartenders… well, we’re invisible, which is partly how we get the good gossip.

They stopped talking abruptly as two men approached. “Can we get some food?” asked the first. He was in a polo and navy blue slacks.

I heard snuffling and saw that Marta was in the shadows, leaning back against the wall. “Hey,” I said, “would you ask the chef if we can continue to order food?”

She nodded and swung through the kitchen door.

Arthur, the man in the suit who had ordered earlier, accompanied the newcomer in the polo. Arthur addressed his companion in an audible hiss. “I’m telling you… we can’t let word of this get out. Tranquility has to be considered a safe haven. For everyone. For…the festival folks. It’s part of what lures them here. Change of pace.”

“How do we not let the word get out? It’s a matter of record! And everyone in town knows about it—or will, within minutes.”

From the furious pace of thumbs texting throughout the room, it was clear he was correct.

“I mean, don’t print this as front-page news.”

“It is front page news, Art. And, the film festival folks are already committed. They’ve submitted their films. They’ll come.”

Marta returned with a positive nod. I slapped down two menus. “Marta will be out to take your order,” I said. As they turned, I added. “And if it’s a film festival, you don’t need to worry. Film people eat news like this for breakfast.”

Arthur looked at me in surprise, but gave a raised-eyebrows look that inferred I could have a point.

They left with the menus and I turned back to Marta, trying to help get her mind on something other than her boss’s death. “Can you help me add these drinks to people’s tabs?” I nodded toward the POS.

For the record, I hate point of sale machines. Each one hates humans in its own unique way. I pointed at people and she pulled up their tabs and showed me how to input the drinks I’d served.

I only had the Scotsman’s tab left undone when the man in the artist’s shirt stopped right before me. He was likely late 40s and had a face that was long but not unattractive. His shoulders were unusually broad, and he exuded self-confidence and a self-trained impishness. His shirt had one too many buttons left undone.

“Okay,” he said, “I wasn’t going to drink, but Joe…”

“You weren’t going to drink because it’s late afternoon, or because you’ve been sober for seven months?” I had no interest in tipping someone off the wagon.

He laughed. “I haven’t been drinking because this isn’t my favorite crowd,” he said. “And I don’t usually drink. But murder seems an excuse, if there ever was one.” He extended his hand. “Michael Michel,” he said, and smiled, waggling his eyebrows as if this should mean something to me.

I took his hand and shook. It was apparent I didn’t recognize him.

“The Painter Who Brings You Home,” he said, and the trademark practically bled from the words.

“Right,” I said, trying to sound impressed. “Nice to meet you. I’m Avalon. What’ll ya have?”

“Vodka tonic lime.”

“Care which vodka?”

He shook his head while saying, “Whatever you’ve got. Grey Goose.”

Ah, a fellow who pretended not to drink, who knew exactly what he wanted.

I poured and went for the garnish tray. The limes were gone. I looked at the back bar and found lemons and oranges. No limes, though clearly there had been some. I walked along the front bar and found, below patron eye level, a small cutting board with a lime on it. The lime was half-cut, some of them in rounds, a few in quarters. Some juice was dripping down onto the floor.

I reached for a wedge, and then I stopped short.

Joseph never would have left this on purpose. It was obviously what he’d been doing when he was interrupted by death—or someone who led him to his death. Or by symptoms that eventually spelled death.

I leaned down and sniffed.

It was lime-y. But there was something else, also.

I backed away. I walked over to Marta and said, quietly, “Don’t let anyone near that end of the bar.”

Then I walked over to Investigator Spaulding, where he sat at a booth interviewing someone. “Investigator?” I said. “Sorry to interrupt, but this is important.”

He looked at me, squinting, then seemed surprised, since I’d made such a point of being Ms. Just-Passing-Through.

He stood up and stepped away from the booth.

“I believe I’ve found the murder weapon,” I said.

As we walked together, I realized that the door to the smoker’s porch sat open. It was crawling with half a dozen or so more crime scene people.

Together we walked to the limes. I said, “Don’t touch them. If this is what Joseph was doing when he died, if they are poisoned, my guess is that the poison can be absorbed through the skin.”

Investigator Spaulding looked at me like, Of course I knew that, but he stepped back. As another officer and two crime scene investigators came over, I backed away, removing myself as far as possible from the action.

I returned to the Artist Shirt. “I think today we’re going with a lemon and a cherry,” I said. I smelled them before putting them in the drink.

It struck me then that perhaps Joseph hadn’t been the intended target. Maybe there was someone who consistently ordered a drink garnished with lime, and the murderer had injected the poison into the lime, not realizing it could be absorbed as well as ingested.

Like, for instance, the man before me, Mr. Vodka Tonic Lime.

Still, this was a pretty non-specific way of poison delivery. The limes could have been served to half a dozen people before anyone realized they were toxic. Who would do something like that?

The police were letting people go once they had been interviewed. I asked Investigator Spaulding if I could go. He nodded, adding, “Please stay in town until tomorrow morning, in case we have any further questions.”

As if I had a choice. All the trains had gone, except the 11 p.m. to Montreal.

The bar had been sealed off with crime-scene tape, a welcome relief as I didn’t relish closing a dead man’s station on the night of his murder. Why would I even think that? I didn’t work here. But my need to leave a bar in pristine condition ran down to bone and marrow.

As I headed for my bag, which I’d left on my original stool, I saw I wouldn’t even be allowed to access the POS machine.

The only patron whose drink I hadn’t input was the man in the kilt. I looked around the emptying room to find he’d moved to a pub table over to the side. “Sorry, sir,” I said. “I wasn’t able to enter your drinks into the machine. I guess you’re on the honor system to pay up another day.”

He gave a small smile. “Lass,” he said, “I’m Glenn MacTavish. Owner of this place. Seems I’m out a bartender and will be needing another. You have any interest?” he asked.

I stopped and stared. “There’s really a MacTavish?” I asked.

“Aye, and you’re looking at him.”

“But… you don’t know anything about me.”

“You keep a clear head and you know what you’re doin’. That’s all I really need to know. Besides, you don’t know anything about me, either.”

“I, well—thank you for the offer. It’s a beautiful bar. Can I think on it overnight? I’ve been told not to leave town.”

“Aye,” he said. “You can tell me in the mornin’ if you might be stayin.’ And while you’re decidin’, I could pay you for your services tonight with a room here at the hotel.”

That seemed fair. The Hotel Tonight app was offering me a room at a local chain. Staying at MacTavish’s Seaside Cottage for free seemed infinitely more attractive. “All right,” I said. “I should probably let you know they’re expecting me in New York City.”

“All right,” he said. “I should probably let you know Joseph isn’t the first bartender to work here who’s been murdered.”

* *

No Known Address

Ingredients

• ½ oz. Malibu black
• 2 dashes Chambord
• ½ oz. mango pineapple vodka
• 2 dashes Jägermeister Spice
• 1 oz. pineapple juice

Method

Shake pineapple vodka, Malibu Black and pineapple juice over ice and strain evenly into martini glasses.

Sink a dash of Chambord into each flute by running it down the side of the glass.

Layer a dash of Jägermeister Spice in each glass.

***

Excerpt from Death in Tranquility by Sharon Linnéa. Copyright 2020 by Sharon Linnéa. Reproduced with permission from Sharon Linnéa. All rights reserved.

 

 

Author Bio:

Sharon Linnea

Sharon Linnéa wrote the bestselling Eden Series (Chasing Eden, Beyond Eden, Treasure of Eden and Plagues of Eden) with B.K. Sherer, as well as the standalone These Violent Delights, a movie murder series. She enjoyed working with Axel Avian on Colt Shore: Domino 29, a middle-grade spy thriller. She is also the author of Princess Ka’iulani: Hope of a Nation, Heart of a People about the last crown princess of Hawaii which won the prestigious Carter Woodson Award, and Raoul Wallenberg: the Man Who Stopped Death. She was a staff writer for five national magazines, a book editor at three publishers, and a celebrity ghost. She lives outside New York City with her family. In Orange County, she teaches The Book Inside You workshops with Thomas Mattingly.

Catch Up With Sharon On:
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The Conductors by Nicole Glover


cover195487-mediumA compelling debut by a new voice in fantasy fiction, The Conductors features the magic and mystery of Jim Butcher’s Dresden Files series written with the sensibility and historical setting of Octavia Butler’s Kindred. 

Meet Hetty Rhodes, a magic-user and former conductor on the Underground Railroad who now solves crimes in post–Civil War Philadelphia.

As a conductor on the Underground Railroad, Hetty Rhodes helped usher dozens of people north with her wits and magic. Now that the Civil War is over, Hetty and her husband, Benjy have settled in Philadelphia, solving murders and mysteries that the white authorities won’t touch. When they find one of their friends slain in an alley, Hetty and Benjy bury the body and set off to find answers. But the secrets and intricate lies of the elites of Black Philadelphia only serve to dredge up more questions. To solve this mystery, they will have to face ugly truths all around them, including the ones about each other.

In this vibrant and original novel, Nicole Glover joins a roster of contemporary fantasy writers, such as Victor LaValle and Zen Cho, who use speculative fiction to delve into important historical and cultural threads. 

Nicole Glover is being lauded as the next Octavia Butler, and the comparison isn’t far off the mark. While Butler is recognized as a giant in the fantasy & science fiction worlds and forged the way for socially conscious Black fantasy (Kindred is probably the most perfect story I’ve ever read), Glover brings a freshness to the genre. A member of the Harry Potter generation, Glover clearly has been influenced by the flood of magic and mystery that erupted in the wake of the HP mania of the 1990s and early 2000s. However, her use of fantasy and magic to reimagine the lives and abilities of Africans both during and after enslavement is new to me and absolutely fascinating.

Riffing off the use of the night sky by enslaved Africans escaping the American South, Glover creates a new magical infrastructure wholly separate from the HP universe. Here, Africans practice Celestial magic, drawing on the power of nature and the universe. Whites, on the other hand, rely on sorcery enabled by wands. The Celestial magic is considered “simple” but the reader learns quickly that simple does not mean weak.

Glovers main characters, Hetty and Benjamin Rhodes, are the titular Conductors – those who guided enslaved people to freedom along the Underground Railroad. Now, post emancipation, they function as detectives. They solve problems, they find people and things, and they right wrongs. They also navigate a multi-segregated society – white and black, rich and poor, men and women – where old wrongs are never forgotten and hatred runs deep. Below the surface of magic, however, is a story about people building new lives after living through unimaginable trauma. There is courage and bravery in this story, but also sheer determination from unforgettable characters.

This should be one of the hottest books of 2021, and I really, really hope it gets picked up for television or the big screen. I can see this sitting in teen sections of libraries and bookstores, but I really hope adult fantasy readers give this a chance.

Publication Date: March 2, 2021
Published By: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Devil’s Harmony by Sarah Rayne


When music researcher Phineas Fox is asked to verify the contents of an old scrapbook, rescued from the site of the historic Chopin Library in Warsaw, he is initially skeptical. But he soon discovers an intriguing link between the Library and an infamous piece of music known as the Dark Cadence.

Sarah Raynes’ Phineas Fox series just keeps getting better and better. Raynes has a remarkable ability to spin a new and intriguing story around familiar characters, using pieces of music history to create suspense and engage the reader. The concept introduced here, the “Dark Cadence,” music played only at the execution of traitors, chilled me as I read about the Chopin Library and the murders of the Russian royal family. I still don’t know if it was a real thing.

I am not what you would call a “musical” person. I like to listen to music, but I don’t often pay attention to titles of songs or the performers, especially with classical music. As I’ve gotten older, I have found that classical music soothes me and I have thought that I’d like to learn more about it. I’ve picked up bits from books like this one, but I know so little about music history that I have no idea if the content is real or purely fiction. I do know that I have an idea in my mind about what the Dark Cadence would sound like, but would not be able to describe it to anyone. Regardless, it gives me the chills.

I often find mystery and suspense stories to be somewhat shallow, with predictable plots and common characters. Rayne’s plots are never common, and her characters pop off the pages. If you like your mysteries with some thinking required, give Sarah Raynes a go. I frequently recommend her work and will continue to do so.

Publication Date: February 2, 2021
Published By: Severn House
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Author Spotlight – Tina deBellegarde

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Tina deBellegarde lives in Catskill, New York with her husband Denis and their cat Shelby. Tina writes the Batavia-on-Hudson Mystery series which debuted September 2020 with Winter Witness. Her short stories appear in the Mystery Writers of America anthology A Stranger Comes to Town and the last two editions of Best New England Crime Stories. Find her winning flash fiction online at Retreat West, Ad Hoc Fiction and Reflex Press. When she isn’t writing, Tina is helping Denis tend their beehives, harvest shiitake mushrooms, and cultivate their vegetable garden. She travels to Japan regularly to visit her son Alessandro. Visit her website at www.tinadebellegarde.com

You’ve recently published Winter Witness, a murder mystery that takes place in a small NY town in the Catskill Mountains. What led you to write this book?

When I moved to the Catskills and started taking walks like Bianca does in Winter Witness, it became obvious to me just what a perfect place it was to stage a murder. There were cliffs, isolated hiking trails, speeding trucks paired with winding streets, abandoned quarries, aging resorts, deep lakes, and steep waterfalls. I decided to set my novel in a deceptively quiet town like my new home.

I have been drawn to murder mysteries since I found Martha Grimes in the 1980s. What I love about her Richard Jury series is that you can revel in the small village life and unravel not only a murder mystery but the intricacies of the characters’ lives as well. When I sat down to write, I wanted more than a murder mystery, I wanted characters to live on the page. A small town gives us a perfect backdrop to get to know our characters because in Batavia-on-Hudson everyone knows everyone, just like in my home of Catskill. The intimacy of the village makes the characters’ interactions more immediate.

I love murder mysteries because they are incubators for character studies. Just as our real lives are full of secrets and dreams, growth and evolution, choices and consequences, murder mysteries are about so much more than the murder. Coming of age stories, romances, and other dramas play out as well. The murder is merely a device to drive the characters’ stories forward.

How do you build your characters? Do you base them on real people, on bits and pieces of real people, or are they completely fictional?

Many of my characters are composites of people I know or have met. No character is based on any one person alone. Some I made up completely, but I wonder if that is even true. I always say that there is an enormous amount of autobiography in every piece of fiction because we use our own experience to understand the workings of our characters. Even if we make them up entirely, we imbue them with reactions and decisions based on our own personal experiences. We don’t write in a vacuum. So yes, they are made up, but based in some vague reality.

I keep a character bible, where I develop their backstory and personality traits. Once that is done, characters become real for me and when I place them in a scene they clearly act a certain way because they now have unique personalities.

What was your publishing process like?

My experience was positive but slow. I had no idea how to break in. I’m sure I’m not alone. In the early stages of my manuscript I attended mystery conferences and I found them a tremendous resource. Malice Domestic is a great fan based conference. New England Crime Bake is a wonderful mystery writers’ conference with craft workshops, pitch sessions and critique sessions. I found the community welcoming and supportive, and not competitive at all.

I pitched my book and had some interest, then I submitted the opening of my manuscript and received helpful feedback. I incorporated the feedback into my novel and then set it aside. I wasn’t ready to face the realities of trying to sell my book. Since this was what I considered the best version of Winter Witness, I was nervous about discovering that nobody might want it.

During this break, I started writing short stories. I have heard that many writers start in reverse. They write shorts and then grow into novel writing. But short stories were new to me and I was so excited to stretch my writing muscles in that direction. I discovered I love writing short fiction. I submitted pieces and got some recognition and publications. One of my short stories was picked up by Level Best Books for their annual Best New England Crime Stories anthology.

I also discovered that Level Best Books had expanded from anthologies to novels a few years ago. Since the anthology was launching at New England Crime Bake and I would be seeing the editors there I thought the timing might be right. I sent in my manuscript of Winter Witness, and I was thrilled to hear from them just before the conference. We met for breakfast there and they offered me a three book deal to launch my Batavia-on-Hudson series. I got to skip the agent stage and went straight to the publisher.

Level Best is a relatively small press, and I believe we are a good fit. The press has a solid presence in the mystery writing community and we are growing every day. It has been a very personal experience working with my editors. In fact, the entire community is tight knit. We host a monthly Zoom meeting where we share our news, ask the editors questions, and get guidance from more seasoned authors. Overall, I am thrilled to be with them.

Describe a typical writing day for you.

Oh, how I wish I had a typical writing day! I have tried and tried and not succeeded in creating a routine. It seems that just as I think I have something that works, it goes off the rails. I have a beautiful little writing cottage that my husband and his brother surprised me with. They built it one spring before we had moved here full time. I was still teaching and when my school year ended, and I came up for the summer, there it was. Ideally, I would wake up, exercise and write for the first half of the day.

More often I fit it in when I can. I can say this though, that as long as I am committed to my writing and doing so daily, that getting my head in and out of my writing is very easy. The writing flows and there is no time lost getting reacquainted with my work. When I have to step away from it for any length of time, when my writing isn’t regular, it is always like starting a new project. I have learned that writing daily keeps me limber and in character. When that happens I don’t need a routine, or a cottage. I just need my laptop or a notepad. Keeping the story fresh and alive in my head is the best writing practice.

Who are some of your favorite authors and/or books?

I grew up on women authors like Anne Tyler, Gail Godwin, Sue Miller, Alice Adams, and Muriel Spark. These women shaped my writing and my view of the world. They made me believe that a woman’s story was worth writing. They focused on the internal lives of their female characters and they did it with beautiful prose. They are all masters of character development. I have always felt that even if their books had no plots, I would read them anyway.

Since my son lives in Japan, I have immersed myself in Japanese contemporary literature. I love Japanese literary sensibilities. And I also love the slow burn, slice of life story that is typical of a Japanese novel. Haruki Murakami, Yoko Ogawa, Aoko Matsuda, Mieko Kawakami, Banana Yoshimoto. So many good ones.
As far as particular books are concerned. The Man with the Load of Mischief by Martha Grimes is my favorite traditional mystery. It was after reading this book that I knew I could have an audience for a book like Winter Witness. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett is one of my favorite literary pieces. Her ability to develop characters and relationships under the extraordinary circumstances of a hostage taking was spectacular. On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong is a poetic novel. You “feel” every word. There are so many small perfect nuggets in that book that it ushered me into writing flash fiction.

Where do you stand on the oxford comma? My readers want to know!

Ah! The $64,000 Question! For most of my life I rejected the Oxford comma. Once I got into writing seriously, I realized that I couldn’t live without it. I used to rewrite a sentence to clarify. Now, since my prose matters so much, I prefer the flexibility the comma can give me. It means the prose as I wrote it can stand.

What do you want readers to experience when they read your work?

I wrote a book about a small village inhabited by characters that I hope readers will want to return to over and over. I want them to think and to feel, to relate and to empathize, and I want them to relax and enjoy. (Notice the comma) I think we read for many reasons, but one of those reasons is that we relate to the emotions of the characters on the page. I like to create characters who are ordinary people leading ordinary lives, but prove to be extraordinary just the same.

If you are an author and would like to be featured here, please contact me at patricia.uttaro @ gmail(dot)com.

New Feature Coming


A new feature will debut this week on It’s All About the Book.

Author Spotlight will feature interviews with debut and newer authors, who will have an opportunity to talk about their books. The feature will focus primarily on New York State authors, with many local to the Rochester region.

If you are an author who would like to be featured, send me a message at patricia.uttaro @ gmail(dot)com.

Before the Ruins by Victoria Gosling


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