Friday, February 27, 2015

Opal's Faith

By Agnes Alexander
Historical Western Romance 364 pages
Cover art by Trisha FitzGerald

Nineteen-year-old Opal Barnett never dreamed that leaving her home in Memphis, Tennessee to settle on a ranch that her father had inherited near the little town of Wildweed, Arizona would bring such an unsettling change in life. Not only did she find a half-breed cousin, but she found she had to give up dreams of wearing beautiful gowns and dress in britches, ride a horse, round up cattle, and do many jobs required of a rancher. She never dreamed that the hired hand who was such a help to would become the object of her secret dreams. She knew she had to fight the impulse she had to touch him every time they were together because she didn't have time in her life for anything except helping her family.

Jace Renwick had one goal, to find the man who had murdered his father in a Colorado gold field ten years earlier. The fact that he was pushing thirty, time most men who wanted a family had settled down, didn't tempt him to give up the pursuit. Informed the culprit was in Arizona, he set out to track  him down and landed up at the Barnette ranch. Knowing this would be a good place to keep a low profile in his search, he volunteers to help George Barnett get the place up and running. But the auburn haired Opal was harder to ignore than he ever dreamed a woman would be.


"Who is that man, Opal?" Her mother asked as soon as she was in the door.

"He said his name was Jace Renwick, not that that means anything to us. He wanted to water his horse and get a drink for himself."

Her mother frowned. "Is he going to leave as soon as he waters his horse?"

"He said he wanted to talk to Papa."

"Papa's in town," Pearl butted in.

"I know. Mr. Renwick said he'd wait for him at the barn. I didn't tell him that it would be a while before Papa came home."

Gloria glanced out the door. "It kind of makes me nervous with a strange man being here and your father gone."

"Maybe he'll get tired of waiting and leave, Mama." Opal hoped those words would waylay her mother's fears, but she didn't believe them as she said them. From her first impression of the man, she got the feeling that once Mr. Renwick set his mind to something, he'd see it through. She wasn't sure how she got this feeling. It was just there.
~ * ~

Though neither he nor his horse needed water, Jace had a drink, then led China to the trough for a few sips. Afterward he moved him to the corral and looped the reins over one of the standing posts. He removed the saddle and hung it over the fence where the rails weren't broken. He couldn't help noticing how rundown the place looked. He'd learned in town this morning that the owner had recently died and his greenhorn brother and his family had not only inherited the place, but had moved in the day before. He wasn't sure the family's trip from the east was worth the trouble to claim the inheritance. It would take a lot of backbreaking work to make this ranch turn a profit. Work he was sure a tenderfoot wasn't able to put in, even if he were willing.

But the people on this ranch weren't his problem. He had his own objective and these naïve people were unwittingly going to help him achieve it, though they didn't or wouldn't realize they were doing it.
Stepping inside the barn, not only to escape the extra warm spring day, but to look around, he was pleased to find the structure solid, with no signs of leakage from the roof or the walls. There were four stalls and the back doors would give access from both directions. He climbed the attached ladder to the loft and walked around. The boards were fine with the exception of one or two that needed nailing down.

Returning to the main floor, he went to the room which interested him the most. It was built on the right side of the barn before the stalls began. He pushed the door open and entered. He was surprised to find the room larger than he'd thought it would be.

As he did in other areas of the barn, he tested the walls for stability. They were as strong as the rest of the building. He walked to the window and looked out. There was an unobstructed view of the house and the approaching road.

Finding this to his liking, he muttered, "With a little cleaning and a bed built in the back wall, this will be ideal. Yep, for the next few months this will be my bedroom."

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

A Ghost of Gunfire

By Dorothy Bodoin
Cozy Mystery, 392 pages
Cover art by Pat Evans

Months after gunfire erupted in her classroom, leaving one student dead and another wounded, Jennet Ferguson begins to hear mysterious gunshots inaudible to anyone else.

While Jennet fears she may be losing her grip of reality, she encounters a threatening stranger near her home. Soon after, she finds a collie tethered to a tree in the woods and left to die. When another collie meets the same fate, she resolves to find the abuser and put an end to his demented activities

“There’s something unsettling in the air today.”
Lucy Hazen gazed at the woods across from Jonquil Lane, her eyes searching for the mysterious something that had taken her attention away from my blueberry pie.

“Sure there is,” Brent said. “It’s electricity. There’s a thunderstorm on the way.”

Lucy shook her head. “Besides that.”

“It won’t be here for a while, I hope.” I glanced at the sky, which was still overcast. Thunder rumbled in the distance, but we should be safe for a while. From the rain, that is.

Whenever Lucy talked like a character in one of her horror stories, I’d learned to pay attention. At times she knew an event was imminent long before it occurred.

I surveyed the woods, trying to see what she saw. They were dark and shadowy, as always, but far from sinister, at least by day.

These days, it seemed, I was always poised for the unexpected. For trouble. Always waiting for a rude disruption to the status quo. Like a gunshot coming out of nowhere.

“The flowers can use the rain,” Camille said.

Lucy went back to her pie. As did I, a bit warily.

Any gunfire in the woods would have a natural explanation. In spite of the numerous ‘No Trespassing” and ‘No Hunting’ signs posted at the perimeters, someone always ignored them. The graceful deer that roamed freely in the area were too tempting to escape the notice of illegal hunters. Then there were game birds.

I pulled my mind back to practical matters. We were at the dessert stage of our barbecue. I glanced at the glasses and plates, some of them empty, some almost so. “Does everyone have enough to drink?” I asked. “How about a second helping of Camille’s flag cake?”

“I’ll try a piece of pie,” Brent said, scraping his plate. His cake had been generously sprinkled with halved strawberries, a portion from the edge of the flag.

“Blueberry or cherry?” I asked.


The thunder was closer now, and a gust of wind sprang to life, taking a swipe at the stack of paper napkins on the table. As I anchored them with a salt shaker, I felt a brush of velvet against my ankles. Sky, so easily frightened by storms and loud noises, sought reassurance that all would be well. I stroked her head and whispered, “It’s okay, girl.”

With a whimper, she lay down.

“Let’s clear the tables,” Camille said. “We can finish dessert inside.”

“Did anyone hear that?” Lucy asked.

“The wind?” Brent rose, holding the cake platter. Crane grabbed the pies. Everyone except Lucy had something in hand.

“No, it sounded like a cry,” she said.

Faintly alarmed, I listened. “I didn’t hear anything. Only the wind.”

“It sounded like a cry for help,” Lucy murmured. “Someone out there is in trouble.”

“You probably heard a creature in the woods,” Brent said. “A bird could make a crying sound.”

He put his arm around Lucy. “You’re really concerned?”

She smiled up at him. “Could it be one of the dogs, Jennet?” she asked. “Are they all accounted for?”

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Deadly Bayou

By A. C. Mason
Click on above line for buy link.

Mystery/Crime, 357 pages
Cover art by Trisha FitzGerald

Cypress Lake Chief of Police Jim Foret is found critically wounded near the place his father committed suicide and dies later at the hospital. Evidence at the scene suggests his gunshot wound is also self-inflicted. His widow, Susan believes he has been murdered. Will she end up a victim herself before the killer is brought to justice?

Excerpt: Cypress Lake, Louisiana, Monday, July 22

I took one look at Sheriff Danny Marchand standing in the doorway and knew immediately something was terribly wrong. My usually easy-going neighbor had the most somber expression I’d ever seen on his face.

“You look so serious. What’s wrong?”

He took a step inside, ducking his head slightly to accommodate his over six foot height as he came through the doorway. “Jim’s been shot.” His voice sounded official.

My heart thumped loud and fast. I could hardly breathe. “How…?”

“He’s at West Lake Memorial in surgery. Come on. I’ll drive you there.”

“The kids are across the street…”

“Don’t worry. Rachel will take care of them.”

I moved in a daze out the door. Before I realized, the city had whizzed by the car windows in a blur.

The siren sounded muted in my ears. Danny refrained from speaking; I was thankful for his consideration. Even though I wanted to know how this had happened, I wouldn’t have been able to carry on an intelligent conversation. All my thoughts centered on this nightmarish scenario. My husband Jim, the Cypress Lake police chief, had been shot and was lying on an operating table. Maybe those were also Danny’s thoughts.

Hospitals with their stark and sterile environment always depressed me. Today West Lake Memorial Hospital seemed even more austere. I wanted to see Jim, to know he was still alive. Touching him wasn’t possible at the moment. All I could do was say prayers.

Several of Jim’s officers, along with a couple of sheriff deputies, milled around in the hall outside the waiting room. Their facial expressions conveyed sympathy for me. I didn’t want sympathy—I wanted my husband.

I took a seat in one of the padded chairs in the waiting room. Danny sat next to me and clasped my hand in his much larger one.

Finally summoning the courage, I asked, “Tell me the truth. How bad are his injuries?”

“Pretty bad,” he said. “Critical, in fact—a shot to the abdomen.”

Chills ran up my spine. The worst nightmare a policeman’s wife could imagine was her husband getting wounded in the line of duty.

“Where did this happen?”

Danny averted his gaze for an instant. “Out by Bayou Jean Baptiste.”

My heart raced. The location his father had chosen to commit suicide. “What happened?”

“We don’t know anything right now.” He looked uncomfortable.

“What do you mean? Was he alone?”

“As near as we can tell. The scene’s still being investigated. A couple of fishermen discovered him and called nine-one-one.”

“How’d he get out there?”

“We found his boat tied up nearby.”

“His boat?”

“You didn’t notice it was gone?”

I shook my head. “He kept the boat in that little shed in the back yard. I had no reason to look over there.”

He nodded. “So he left the house before you woke up.”

“Yes. In fact I didn’t even hear him leave.” Something about Danny’s demeanor told me he wasn’t telling the whole story. “Danny, I want to know everything.”

“There’s nothing more I can tell you right now,” he said in a gentle, but still official voice.

I persisted, “I know you’re not telling me everything.”

A Scent of Almond

By Richard Whitten Barnes
Click on above line for buy link.
Mystery/Crime, 302 pages
Cover art by Trisha FitzGerald


A serial killer at large.

Detective Andy Blake’s life couldn’t have been better. Her love life with Grant Stacey is on track, and she is happy in her new job with the Ontario Provincial Police. But her tranquil life on beautiful St. Joseph Island is interrupted with a simple request to take over the investigation of a two year old poisoning death.

The routine case turns complicated when curiously similar unsolved deaths are discovered over a period of several years, and cyanide is a common thread. Adding to the turmoil is Dan Graves, a renaissance man if there ever was one, and a contender for Andy’s affections. She finds herself pulled in all directions before coming to grips with the A Scent of Almond.


Pauline Acardi opened the door to her unexceptional house near the Desbarats ice rink. She couldn’t have been much over thirty, her trim figure dressed in a halter and shorts, as if celebrating the unexpectedly beautiful weather. “Yeah?”

Andy flashed her ID. “I’m Detective Blake—” she began.

“Thought someone would show up. I heard they found Vinny.”

“May I come in?”

She was led into the parlor furnished in an eclectic collection of pieces—modest, but decently kept. She scanned the room, but found no trace of Vincent Acardi. The shelf over the propane heater bore none of the framed photographs of family. Mrs. Acardi appeared a bit defensive, standing with her mouth set, arms folded across small breasts, feet braced apart.

“What are your feelings about your husband being finally found?”

The question wasn’t expected. “I…guess…I’m curious. Yeah.”


“Yeah. The constable said he was found in a house on St. Joe. Been dead since he went missing. That’s weird.”

“I read the report of your calling the OPP back then. You and Mr. Acardi were having some problems.”

“Vinny was a skinny little shit, but he was big enough to knock me around. The last time was just too much, and I called to get a…” She searched for the term.

Andy already knew. “Restraining order.”

“Yeah. I was embarrassed to go to work all bruised up like that. He was doing it for years. My friends said I better call the OPP. Then one night he just don’t come home.”

“Where were you that night?” Andy asked.

“Here … with a friend.”

“Andy checked her notes. Mrs. Hanks?”

“Claudia. Yeah.”

“Why was she here?”

“She worked at the Legion Hall on the Island where Vinny and I would go once in a while. I got to know her. That night she comes to my house—tells me Vinnie’s been all over Debbie Wharton, a waitress who works there.”

That name wasn’t in the file. “Debbie…” Andy made a note.

“Wharton.” Pauline spelled it.

“So you think they had an affair?”

“Who knows? Debbie says no, I hear.”

“You said he’d been abusing you for years. Why didn’t you complain sooner?” Andy closed the file and walked to the door.

“I did, when we lived in the Soo. The police came to the house after the little bastard slammed me up against the side of the house. Actually, a neighbor called them.”

“You lived in the Soo?”

Pauline nodded. “Vinny was good with engines. Got a job at the marina on Kensington Point. We been here three years. I mean I been here that long now.”

Andy thanked her and began to leave, wondering how she was getting along without her husband, until a pickup pulled up at the curb and a man dressed in jeans and tank-top got out, and started up the walk.

Andy didn’t wait to be introduced, but it was apparent Pauline Acardi wasn’t pining away for Vinny.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Once Upon a Crime

By Evelyn Cullet
Romantic Mystery, 397 pages
Cover art finishes by Pat Evans
Original design by Evelyn Cullet
Purchase Link

Fleeing her life for a short break, Charlotte Ross, along with her best friend Jane Marshall, find themselves at her aunt’s home in the sleepy town of Raven’s Caw, Michigan. Charlotte hopes to recover from a breakup with her fiancé, and her friend Jane, a new mystery writer, is looking forward to somewhere relaxing. But life has different plans for the two friends and they find themselves swept up in a whirlwind of romance, mystery and murder. Excerpt:
Jane had no appetite for dinner, but she forced herself to eat Nettie’s leftover vegetarian chili. After she’d eaten, she paced the kitchen floor while Nettie brewed tea.

“There’s nothing like dandelion root tea to clear the toxins out of your liver,” Nettie said.

“Right,” Jane answered, not really listening. She stopped pacing when Nettie handed her a cup.

“I’m kind of glad Charlotte’s on another date with Rex.” Nettie sipped her tea. “It’ll help her get over her broken engagement.”

Jane put on a weak smile. She had to tell Nettie something. If she confessed Charlotte was taken by those two thugs, Nettie would freak out and call Charlotte’s parents, the FBI and God only knew who else. Since she was sure Rex would save Charlotte, like he always had in the past, why put everyone through all the needless worry.

Jane sat at the table and sipped her tea. I can’t stand just waiting around. I should be out there searching or doing something to help.

Jane’s cell phone vibrated. She gratefully answered it.

“Hi, beautiful,” Kenny said smoothly, and Jane fought the blush that was threatening to stain her cheeks. “If you’re with my mother, don’t say anything. Just make some excuse to leave the house. I’ve got news about Charlotte. I’ll meet you at the gas station in town.”

“Okay.” Jane got up from the table. “Uh, that was…that was the sheriff. He needs me to, to come to the police station for more questioning.” Jane went for her coat. “This shouldn’t take long.”

“Too bad,” Nettie said. “I was hoping you would come to the Non-Denominational Church in Redville with me. It’s Bingo night.”

“I’m not really a Bingo player, but thanks for the invitation anyway.” Jane waved goodbye and sprinted to Charlotte’s car.

She drove into the gas station parking lot ten minutes later. Kenny was inside buying a sandwich and a cup of coffee, so she pulled up to the gas pump, used her credit card to pay and filled the tank. Then she got in the car and waited for Kenny to come out. He finally headed toward the car.

Kenny slipped into the seat and leaned forward. Had his wounds gotten worse?

“How’s your back?”

“It’s better today, thanks.”

She let out a breath. “When you called, you said you had news.”

“I found Charlotte.”

“That’s great!” She waited for him to tell her where, but he didn’t. “Well, let’s go get her.”

“It’s not that simple. Those two guys are with her, and I’m sure one of them has a gun.”

“What! Are you crazy? You left her there with a couple of thugs who have a gun? I’m calling Rex, and you can tell him where she is.”

Kenny took a sip of coffee. “I have a feeling Rex already knows where she is.”

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Noddy in Wonderland

By Paddy Bostock
Fantasy, 346 pages
Cover art by Richard Stroud
Purchase Link

In his wildest dreams, Afghanistan war veteran Noddy Stoddart fantasised about becoming king of Liverpool, even though his brother, Knobby, told him he was crazy. But shooting government minister St John Jaunston in the bottom with an air rifle on a visit to the city leads bizarrely to Noddy’s dream coming true--as president of the newly created People’s Republic of Liverpool.

Outraged as Noddy and his Goth/Punk girlfriend set Britain against him through further “bottom blasting” and then faux vampire actions before escaping to a castle in France, the prime minister initially threatens ancient punishments. But, facing Cabinet backstabbing and the loss of a general election, he succumbs to realpolitik and invites the miscreants home as voter bait.

Mistake, because that’s when—with a little help from his friends, and the involvement of an elf and his dog, Noddy takes full advantage.

The Château de Chanteloire’s Great Hall had witnessed many spectacular historic moments across the centuries—including the bloody, ninth-century altercation between King Louis the Pious and his renegade son, Lothar—and was closed to a general public unaware of its existence. This because it was known only to its current owner, Compte Lucien de Rubempré and his centuries-old pals Mordecai and Arnaud, for whom a return to past glories was always “à disposition,” as he put it.

The size of an average tennis court and refurbished in largely Renaissance style, the hall could seat forty-eight guests on turquoise velvet-covered, high-backed chairs ranged along two mahogany tables each stretching the length of the polished-pine floor fifty feet below the beamed ceiling from which hung candle-lit chandeliers on silver and gold chains. Further illumination was provided by sconces on the gilt-varnished walls. In short, it was a place fit for royalty to impress their neighbours. Also a place for them to eat and drink to excess, canoodle, plot, and fight. Little wonder, with their humble origins, that Noddy, Meryl, Knobby, Rodney, Anthea, Rollo and Ernie should have been gobsmacked when ushered into it by an unctuous Compte Lucien.

“Holy shit!” said Knobby, for example.

But, accustomed to such surroundings, Mordy and Arnaud just smiled and took their seats—Arnaud’s on a special dog chair—around the end of one of the immense tables laid out for this evening’s small party.

“Join us, chaps and chapesses, do,” said Mordy, waving an inviting arm at those still clustered at the doorway staring into a room the like of which they had never seen.

And, one by one, they did. Sitting carefully in case they knocked over one of the crystal goblets set before them, or besmirched any of the gleaming silverware laid out for the entrée of spit-roasted quail and then a main course of wild boar stewed in a sauce of tomatoes and red wine, which would soon be placed before them by three maids in white blousons with purple velvet jupes.

“Just take it easy and relax,” Mordy advised. “It’s only a junket after all.”

Rauf, rauf,” said Arnaud, who would be served his dinner in a special pewter bowl, on which was inscribed in gold letters: Chien.

“But first a toast,” Mordy said, standing on his chair and raising his goblet of Pouilly-Fumé while the maids hurried to fill their guests’ glasses with local Loire reds, whites, and rosés of their choice.

Noddy, Knobby, and Ernie said they’d rather have a beer, thank you very much, but Mordy wasn’t having any of that.

“When in Rome,” he said.

“We’re not in Rome,” said Noddy.

“Manner of speaking, mon ami. Do try a drop of the Pouilly-Fumé. Put hairs on your chest. I can assure you it is of the finest quality.”

So Noddy, Knobby, and Ernie did as advised, while Rodney, Rollo, Anthea, and Meryl went for an assortment of Pinots, Chardonnays, and Rosés d’Anjou.

“Jolly dee,” Mordy said when all the glasses were brimming and everybody was standing expectantly at his or her place. “So, here’s to us all!”

“Us all!” chorused the crews of both the Deux Chevaux and the Range Rover Vogue Sport, swigging at their goblets.

“But especially to Noddy and Meryl without whom this celebration would never have taken place,” Mordy added, addressing the pair sitting next to him.

“Noddy and Meryl!” echoed around the vast space, and then bounced back off the fifty-foot ceiling.

“So now sit and enjoy,” said Mordy. “And, while you eat, you may expect a little in-house entertainment,” he added, replacing his goblet on the tablecloth and pointing to the far end of the hall, where a screen of cinematic dimensions was sliding incongruously into place.

“Porno?” said Noddy, who’d liked the Pouilly-Fumé so much he had already had his glass refilled twice by Françoise, the prettiest of the maids.

“One way of looking at it, old man. You will see... you will see. Now do pay these little quail chappies the attention they deserve, eh?”

Rauf, rauf,” said Arnaud, licking at his bowl.

“Prob’bly won’t be till we’re well past the boar and onto dessert the PM will speak to us,” Mordy added.

“PM of France?” said Rodney Snipes, already the worse for wear after three goblets of Pinot Noir.

“Of Great Britain, mon vieux. Who will shortly be joining us with news I am sure will interest you.”

Biffo?” said Rodney.

“The same. Sources tell me he is about to make the speech of his life.”

“And we’ll see it?”

Monday, September 22, 2014

My Jungle

y Gabriel Timar
Mainstream, 538 pages
Cover art by Pat Evans
Purchase Line

The world is a jungle! To find happiness one must find his/her own patch. Gabriel’s adventurous life (actually, a fictionalized autobiography) is the search for a culture, which would accept him. As he travels five continents, his accounts reflect the true picture of society in the late twentieth century. The presentation of the world girdling corruption, violence, oppression, and prejudice are featured in the story.

The elaborate way of paying bribes made my head swim.

“The civil servants of the newly independent nations learned corruption quickly,” Jeff remarked. “I wish they learned their duties as quickly. Can we have a vote on the ten percent administration fee?”

Duke and I nodded.

“There is another important item on the agenda: my man at the Ministry of Municipal Affairs suggested that the Mombasa Water Supply project will come up soon. The City wants the government to guarantee a loan from a commercial bank. Can Broughton Engineering tackle such work?” Duke asked.

“Of course,” I replied.

“That is fine and dandy,” Duke remarked, “I’ll work on Satish. He is an Asian, the chief engineer at the Ministry. He would give me an inside line if the price is right.”

“You will have a lot of competition, because a Danish firm moved in to Nairobi last month. According to the rumors, they have a lot of money, but very little local know-how,” Jeff said.

“Peter told me about Warren Bentley promising a big structural engineering job to Broughton. Can you look into that?” I said.

“I think you should visit Warren yourself,” Duke said. “He doesn’t care who you are, but he is going to make sure of hiring the best structural engineer; nothing else matters. We cannot baksheesh him. I can fix up a meeting with him for tomorrow morning, if you’re ready.”

“I can meet him anytime,” I replied.

“Very well. Subject to your meeting with old Warren, I’m going to schedule your trip to Dar for next week, if it is all right with you.”

The rest of the meeting dealt with Jeff’s schedule. He had many clients from the US and Europe, including a two-week stretch with a director of Warner Brothers who wanted to scout the sites for a major motion picture.

“It is a shame they did not bring the leading lady,” Duke remarked. “I understand she’s a gorgeous blonde.”

“Duke prefers blonds,” Jeff added.

The meeting was over in an hour, and I spent the rest of the day preparing a portfolio of my structural engineering projects. I added a few sketches, thinking it may come in handy at the meeting with Warren Bentley.

At home, I sat on the patio, put my feet up on a stool with a gin and lime in my hand. It was the same drink I always had in Chittagong. I knew I had come to the right place. I had professional challenges, eternal summer, and reasonable salary. I considered myself very fortunate.

The meeting with the architect took place at ten o’clock. Bentley had his office in the New Reservation in a white painted, nondescript, large two-story residence not too far from my house.

The architect was a big man, at least fifty-five years old, with a flock of gray hair, wearing a well-starched safari suit. His office was similar to mine, but instead of the zebra skin, he had a large drawing of the futuristic airport terminal of Nairobi. We shook hands and sat down.

“We’ll build it in a few years,” Bentley said. He pointed at the picture on the wall. “I just won the contest.”

“Congratulations,” I said. “Perhaps we could have a piece of the action.”