MacKenzie's Last Run by Gayle Rosengren



Thirteen-year-old MacKenzie (Mac) Lawrence secretly blames himself for his father’s death. In his grief and guilt, he has pulled away from everyone, even his twin sister Tessa.  When their mother announces her plans to remarry barely 18 months after Dad’s death, Mac is furious and runs away in an attempt to force her to break off the engagement. 
 
Unfortunately, nothing goes as Mac plans. He ends up seriously injured, miles from home, unable to reach out for help, while clues he inadvertently left behind suggest he’s been kidnapped—possibly by Mom’s fiancé—and set his twin sister Tessa on a desperate search to find him.  But she’d better hurry, because the clock is ticking, and Mac is running out of time.
 
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Excerpt

Mac hooked his right arm around the slim trunk of a birch tree. One more break before going the rest of the way. He sagged against the tree and closed his eyes. His head was a snare drum, crashing, crashing. Something was definitely wrong. He was sick. Or the infection in his hand was worse than he’d thought. Or he was dehydrated. Maybe all of the above. Whatever. It was going to take everything he had to make it up this miserable hill.
 
He gritted his teeth and loosened his hold on the birch. Up and over, he told himself, pushing off from the trunk. But for every bit of progress he made, he slid back at least half of it. The ground was mud to the tops of his shoes—his good, expensive, running shoes. He tried to find toe holds in the muck but nothing was solid. The ground kept shifting under him, sucking at his feet.
 
His chest heaved. For the first time he worried that he might not be able to make it to the top. And it was so close. Just a few feet away. But he couldn’t get any traction, and he didn’t have the strength to keep climbing in place much longer.
 
Desperate, he grabbed onto a low shrub with his good hand and used it to haul himself a foot higher. That worked so well he looked for another shrub to grab onto. No shrub, but a sapling a few feet ahead that looked sturdy enough. He sprang forward and grasped a low branch. Straining hard, he hauled himself up. For one triumphant moment he could see over the hill. He glimpsed the road on the other side.
 
Then the branch snapped. He started to fall. Backwards. Head first.
 
 

About the Author

As a girl, books were among Gayle’s best friends and inspired her dream of writing for children someday. It was a dream that only grew stronger over the years. Gayle majored in Creative Writing in college. Her first book, What the Moon Said (Putnam 2014) was a Jr. Library Guild selection and CCBC title, and her second, Cold War on Maplewood Street (Putnam 2015) won the Tofte-Wright Award for Children’s Literature. She has worked as an advertising copywriter, a pre-school teacher, a youth services assistant in her local public library; and a research assistant in the American Girl library. Gayle is a lover of stories whether she’s writing them or reading them.
 
Visit her website to learn more about Gayle and her books.



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Something Fishy This Way Comes (A Whit and Whiskers Mystery) by Gabby Allan


Take in the wild beauty of Santa Catalina Island with tour guide and eclectic gift shop owner Whitney Dagner. On the itinerary: dramatic Pacific coastlines, diverse marine life, and murder!

Since returning home from mainland California and finding her groove with the family tourism business, Whitney Dagner’s daily routine has become a wonderfully chaotic adventure. She and her nimble kitty, Whiskers, often find themselves at the center of the action on Catalina, from staged treasure hunts to gossipy birdwatchers. But before Whit can get too comfortable in the place where she grew up, a gift shop order leads to a stunning discovery—someone’s dead body . . .

One of Whit’s best boat tour client’s, Leo Franklin was young and newly engaged when he unceremoniously took his own life. Only it doesn’t seem like that’s what really happened—not after the suspicious activity displayed by his family’s old rivals at the scene of his death. As a bitter, generations-long feud between Leo’s kin and the local Ahern clan comes to a head, Whit and her police diver not-so-ex-boyfriend must lead a dangerous investigation into years of scandal and bad blood to figure out who’s innocent . . . and who’s covering a killer’s tracks.

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Guest Post

Here we are back in Catalina!

Hi everyone! Thanks so much for joining me on the blog today! I’m excited to be here and share a little bit about Whit and Whiskers Mysteries. Who doesn’t love sand, sun, snickering and little bit of murder mystery?

I’ve been writing for a lot of years, mostly under another name (Misty Simon if you’re interested) but this new series has given me the opportunity to go back to the days when I lived in California. Never did we live on the island, although sometimes I thought it would be awesome. However, we did get to vacation there a few times and it made an impression. Enough that when I got a chance to live there in my imagination, I jumped at it.

So Whit and Whiskers Mysteries were born, and I got to explore island life, getting around in a golf cart, shipping everything to the island, and being in a small community that gets infiltrated every day with tons of tourists. Setting up the murder mystery was easy enough since my mind likes to play with motives and clues and secrets. It was so much fun to virtually explore the island, and I am incredibly thankful for virtual maps and the tons of pictures available of the island. Then I was scheduled for a book signing conference for Kensington Books and decided to go ahead and take one for the team but booking passage to the island itself.

It was a blast! I dragged my aunt with me (she wasn’t exactly kicking and screaming, but more pulling me along behind her!) and we explored all the ins and outs as tourists, but also took the time to talk with the people who live and work there to see what it’s like to be a resident. The stories they told and the experiences they shared have flavored books one and two so much and I love it. There’s nothing like getting to immerse yourself even just for a day in how someone else lives in an environment that’s nothing like yours.

We strolled down the sidewalks, walked through the neighborhoods, ate at the local restaurant, rented a golf cart, and dug our toes into the sand. And all that then allowed me to come home and bring it to life on the page. As I sit down to write I try to bring the images back into my mind and the smells, the tastes and feel of being on this little slice of heaven. It’s not all perfect there of course but it came pretty darn close in my mind! So of course I had to add a little murder into the mix, sprinkle it liberally with secrets, then a dash of romance.

And then tie it all together with a wonderful amateur sleuth and a chonky cat. These characters are so much fun, including Whit’s grandmother and grandfather, her best friend Maribel, her sometimes boyfriend Felix, and her brother Nick. I have had such a great time making the relationships, giving them issues, maneuvering them around each other and on the page. These people feel real to me now and I have such a great time being able to visit with them on the page and then share it with readers. Setting is a character of its own and is a wonderful thing to create but I also love to create the characters and community with cozy mysteries.

My favorite kind of characters are the ones you wish were real so you could go grab some coffee together, preferably without a killer hanging over your shoulder! They’re tight-knit but full of secrets, family but with some history that not everyone talks about, full of passion and love and relationships that aren’t always perfect. But I love writing realistic characters even as I’m putting them in not-so-realistic scenarios. I don’t know what I would do if I actually stumbled upon a dead body but I’m pretty sure it would run along the lines of calling the local police and then letting them do their job, not sneaking around and asking questions that could get me into trouble.

Yet it’s wonderful to be able to send Whit into the fray, to see what you could possibly do, to write without true danger to your person. I love playing the game of clues hidden right in plain sight and catching a killer against all the odds. And Whit is one of the perfect people to have at the helm of these books. She’s fun, curious, out for justice, and often reluctant to get involved. But she does anyway because she can’t stand the thought of a killer walking free and someone else being blamed for something they didn’t do.

So I visit with Whit again and again and look forward to putting out more books in this series to continue along with Whit’s life, her love, and the way she seems to be able to pull it out always by the end! Dive in with me!


About the Author


After writing plays for her friends to act out as a kid, bad poetry in high school, and her high school Alma Mater song, GABBY ALLAN finally found her true passion—cozy mysteries. Being able to share her world with readers, one laugh at a time, and touch people’s hearts with her down-to-earth characters makes for the best job ever. This California girl now lives with her husband, daughter, and two insane dogs in Central Pennsylvania where she is hard at work on her next novel.

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Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman

Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman Banner


Synopsis:

Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman
The tortured spirits of the dead haunt a Regency-era English manor—but the true danger lies in the land of the living in the third installment in the Lily Adler mysteries, perfect for fans of Deanna Raybourn.

Regency widow Lily Adler is looking forward to spending the autumn away from the social whirl of London. When she arrives in Hampshire with her friends, the Carroways, she doesn’t expect much more than a quiet country visit and the chance to spend time with her charming new acquaintance, Matthew Spencer.

But something odd is afoot in the small country village. A ghost has taken up residence in the Belleford manor, a lady in grey who wanders the halls at night, weeping and wailing. Half the servants have left in terror, but the family seems delighted with the notoriety that their ghost provides. Intrigued by this spectral guest, Lily and her party immediately make plans to visit Belleford.

They arrive at the manor the next morning ready to be entertained—only to find that tragedy has struck. The matriarch of the family has just been found killed in her bed.

The dead woman’s family is convinced that the ghost is responsible. Lily is determined to learn the truth before another victim turns up—but could she be next in line for the Great Beyond?

Book Details:

Genre: Historical Mystery
Published by: Crooked Lane Books
Publication Date: August 9th 2022
Number of Pages: 352
ISBN: 1639100784 (ISBN13: 9781639100781)
Series: Lily Adler Mystery #3
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | Bookshop.org

Read an excerpt:

As they walked, Mr. Wright fell in step next to Ofelia. “Have you ever seen a ghost before, Lady Carroway?”

“I have not,” she replied, as polite as ever in spite of the hint of skepticism in her voice. “Pray, what does it look like?”

“Like a lady in white and gray,” he said, and Lily was surprised to see how serious his expression was. His frivolous, unctuous manner had dropped away, and he shivered a little as he gestured toward the windows. “No one has seen her face. The first time I saw her she was standing right there, bathed in moonlight, when I was returning from a late night in the village. And my sister saw her in the early morning only two days ago. Some nights, we have heard her wails echoing through the halls, even when she is nowhere to be seen.”

Lily exchanged a look with her aunt, who seemed surprised by the detail in Thomas Wright’s story and the quaver in his voice. Either he believed wholeheartedly in his ghost, or he was putting on a very convincing performance for his audience.

“And what does she do?” Ofelia asked, sounding a little more somber now, as they drew

to a halt in front of the windows. The small party looked around the corner of the hall. It was unremarkable enough, with several large paintings, and a tall, handsome curio cabinet standing in an alcove. An old-fashioned tapestry hung across one wall, though it was worn and faded enough that it was hard to tell exactly what picture it had originally presented.

“Nothing, so far,” Mr. Wright said, a sort of forced theatricality in his voice that left Lily puzzled.

She had expected, based on what Mr. Spencer had said the night before, to find an eager showman in Thomas Wright, ready to bask in the attention of curious neighbors, not a true believer in the supernatural. Glancing at Mr. Spencer out of the corner of her eye, she thought he looked equally puzzled.

“She stands and weeps, or floats around the hall and wails. Usually, if someone tries to draw close, she vanishes. But last month—” Mr. Wright’s voice dropped a little. He still glanced

uneasily toward the other end of the hall, as if momentarily distracted or looking for someone, before quickly returning his attention to his audience. “Last month she became angry when one of our housemaids came upon her unexpectedly. The lady in gray pursued her down the hall, wailing. Poor Etta was so scared that she fell down the stairs in her haste to get away. That

was when our servants started leaving.”

“I trust the housemaid has recovered?” Mr. Spencer asked, sounding genuinely concerned.

“She has,” Mr. Wright replied. “But no one has tried to approach the lady in gray again. We think she wishes to be left alone.”

“Well,” Lily said, attempting a return to lightness, “as far as ghosts go, that sounds reasonable enough. I confess I feel that way often enough myself, especially after too many busy nights in a row.”

Ofelia, who had been looking a little wide-eyed, giggled, and Mr. Spencer quickly covered a cough that might have been a chuckle.

Mr. Wright scowled, his expression halfway between unease and displeasure. “I take it you are not a woman who believes in ghosts, Mrs. Adler?”

“I have never had the opportunity to find out whether or not I am,” Lily replied. “The homes I have lived in have all been stubbornly unhaunted.”

“For your sake, madam, I hope they remain that way,” Mr. Wright said. There was an unexpected note of resignation in his voice as he added, “It is not a comfortable thing to live with.”

“I would have thought you to be fond of yours, sir,” Lily said. “If you dislike her so, why go to the trouble of showing visitors around and telling them the story?”

Mr. Wright smiled, some of the showman creeping back into his manner. “Because you are here, dear ladies. And how could I resist such a beautiful audience?”

“Tell me, has your family any idea who this lady in gray might be?” Lily’s aunt asked politely.

He nodded, his voice dropping even further, and they all reflexively drew closer to hear what he was saying. “We each have our own theory, of course,” he said. “I believe it is my father’s great-aunt, Tabitha, whose bedroom was just this way. If you would care to see the spot?” He held out his arm to Ofelia, who took it. Mr. Wright, engrossed in his story once more, turned to lead them down the closest passage. “Tabitha died there some fifty years ago, of a broken heart, they say, after news arrived of the death of her betrothed in the colonies—”

His story was suddenly cut off by screaming. Not a single shriek of surprise or dismay, but a cry that seemed to go on without ceasing. Thomas Wright froze, the genial smile dropping from his face in shock. “Selina?” he called.

The screaming continued, growing more hysterical. Dropping Ofelia’s arm, he ran toward the sound, which was coming from the far hallway, past the stairs. The others, stunned into stillness, stared at each other, unsure what to do.

“I think it’s Miss Wright,” Mr. Spencer said, all traces of merriment gone from his face. “Wait here—I shall see if they need any assistance.” He made to go after, but Thomas Wright was already returning, rushing down the hall next to another man, who was carrying the screaming woman.

“The parlor, just next to you, Spencer!” Mr. Wright called. “Open the door!”

Mr. Spencer, the closest to the door, flung it open, and the hysterical woman was carried in. She was laid on a chaise longue in the middle of the dim little room, Mr. Spencer stepping forward to help settle her as the man who had carried her stepped back. Lily, glancing

around as she and the other ladies crowded through the door, thought it looked like a space reserved for the family’s private use, which made sense on an upper floor. Thomas Wright knelt next to the hysterical woman for a moment, clasping her hands.

“Selina?” he said loudly. But she kept screaming, her eyes wide and darting about the room without seeing anything. Judging by the round cheeks and dark hair they both shared, Lily thought she must be his sister. Whether they had other features in common was hard to tell when Selina Wright was in the middle of hysterics.

“Miss Wright?” Matthew Spencer tried giving her shoulders a shake. “You must stop this at once!”

But she clearly could not hear either of them. Thomas Wright took a deep breath and looked grim as, with a surprising degree of practicality, he slapped her across the face.

The screams stopped abruptly, her blank expression resolving into one of terror before her eyes latched on her brother. Her face crumpled in misery. “Oh, Thomas!” she sobbed, gasping for breath.

He gave her shoulders a little shake. “Selina, stop this—you must tell me what happened.” But she only shook her head, clutching at his coat with desperate fists and dropping her head against his shoulder, her weeping shaking them both. Mr. Wright turned to the servant who had carried his sister. “Isaiah, what happened to her?”

Isaiah was a young Black man with very short, curly hair and broad shoulders. His plain, dark clothing marked him clearly as a servant, though it was nothing so formal as the livery that

would have been worn in a great house. His wide stance spoke of confidence, and the easy way that Thomas Wright addressed him indicated long service and familiarity.

But there was no confidence on the manservant’s face as he hesitated, gulping visibly and shaking his head. His eyes were wide, and he stumbled over his words as he tried to answer, either unsure how to respond or not wanting to. “It’s . . . it’s Mrs. Wright, sir. She didn’t open her door when we knocked, and Miss Wright . . . she asked me to open it, since no one has the key . . . and she was there, sir—Mrs. Wright. She was there but she wasn’t moving. There was nothing we could do, but there was no one else there what could have done it. She’s dead, sir,” he finished in a rush. “Mrs. Wright is dead. She was killed in the night.”

Beside her, Lily heard Ofelia gasp, though she didn’t turn to look at her friend. Mr. Spencer looked up, his dark eyes wide as he met Lily’s from across the room. She stared back at him, frozen in shock, unable to believe what she had just heard.

“Killed?” Thomas Wright demanded, his voice rising with his own disbelief and his arms tightening around his sister.

“It killed her, Thomas,” Selina Wright said, raising her head at last. Now that her hysterics had faded, her cheeks had gone ashen with fear. “There was no one else who could have entered that room. The lady in gray killed our mother.”

***

Excerpt from Death at the Manor by Katharine Schellman. Copyright 2022 by Katharine Schellman. Reproduced with permission from Katharine Schellman. All rights reserved.

  

Author Bio:

Katharine Schellman

Katharine Schellman is a former actor, one-time political consultant, and now the author of the Lily Adler Mysteries and the Nightingale Mysteries. Her debut novel, The Body in the Garden, was one of Suspense Magazine’s Best Books of 2020 and led to her being named one of BookPage’s 16 Women to Watch in 2020. Her second novel, Silence in the Library, was praised as “worthy of Agatha Christie or Rex Stout.” (Library Journal, starred review) Katharine lives and writes in the mountains of Virginia in the company of her husband, children, and the many houseplants she keeps accidentally murdering.

Catch Up With Katharine Schellman:
KatharineSchellman.com
Goodreads
BookBub - @katharineschellman
Instagram - @katharinewrites
Twitter - @katharinewrites
Facebook - @katharineschellman

 

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Two Parts Sugar, One Part Murder (A Baker Street Mystery) by Valerie Burns

 

In this delectable new cozy mystery series, social media maven Maddy Montgomery’s perfectly ’grammable life has come undone, and she’s #StartingOver in a tiny town with one giant problem—a killer on the loose . . .

When Maddy Montgomery’s groom is a no-show to their livestream wedding, it’s a disaster that no amount of filtering can fix. But a surprise inheritance offers a chance to regroup and rebrand—as long as Maddy is willing to live in her late, great-aunt Octavia’s house in New Bison, Michigan, for a year, running her bakery and caring for a 250-pound English mastiff named Baby.

Maddy doesn’t bake, and her Louboutins aren’t made for walking giant dogs around Lake Michigan, but the locals are friendly and the scenery is beautiful. With help from her aunt’s loyal friends, aka the Baker Street Irregulars, Maddy feels ready to tackle any challenge, including Octavia’s award-winning cake recipes. That is, until New Bison’s mayor is fatally stabbed, and Maddy’s fingerprints are found on the knife . . .

Something strange is going on in New Bison. It seems Aunt Octavia had her suspicions, too. But Maddy’s going to need a whole lot more than a trending hashtag to save her reputation—and her life.

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Guest Post

WHAT ARE THE PERFECT INGREDIENTS FOR MURDER

I’m often asked where I get my ideas for my books. My standard response is, everywhere. But, as I prepare for the launch of a new cozy mystery series, I decided to really think about this question. I’ve lived near Lake Michigan most of my life. The environment and the ever-changing weather are something that the locals have grown accustomed to. It wasn’t until I moved away, that I really had to think about the uniqueness of life near the lake. When I chose to set my newest cozy, The Baker Street Mystery series, on the shores of Lake Michigan, I knew the environment would be a key component of the books.

When looking for the perfect ingredients for a murder, Southwestern Michigan had everything. One of the five Great Lakes, affordable property, quaint villages, and natural resources that need to be protected. All of this combined to create the perfect recipe for a plot involving real estate developers. Here’s a bit of the local history. In the 1980s the property closest to Lake Michigan wasn’t the fashionable lake front property coveted in big cities, like Chicago. Small bungalows, rentals, and fishing shacks dotted the shoreline in Southwestern Michigan. Fast forward a couple of decades and those same shacks are now going for close to a million dollars. Yet, there are still pockets of homes that hadn’t been torn down to make way for large McMansions or multi-family condos in the villages along the shoreline.

Two Parts Sugar, One Part Murder, introduces readers to Maddy Montgomery, a social media influencer and fashionista. When Maddy’s fiancé is a no-show for their livestreamed wedding, she’s humiliated, and looking for a rock to crawl under and hide. When she learns that her great aunt Octavia has died and left her a house in the small, quaint, sleepy town of New Bison, Michigan, she knows it will be the perfect place to hide out while the media attention dies down. Maddy inherits a house, a bakery, and a 250 lb English Mastiff named Baby. The house doesn’t look like much from the front, but it’s a large, older home that backs up to Lake Michigan. The best part are the stunning views and beach access. It’s prime real estate and could bring Maddy a ton of money if she sells. But, Maddy’s great aunt Octavia had other plans. In order to inherit, Maddy must stay in the house, run the bakery, and keep the dog for one year. So, selling is out of the question.

That was the setup for my mystery. I couldn’t help but wonder, WHAT IF…What if an unscrupulous realtor, backed by greedy investors, wanted to buy waterfront property, but the homeowner refused to sell? What if the homeowner died suddenly and left the property to a relative? What if the heir was pressured to sell, but couldn’t? This game of WHAT IF, is what I combined to create the plotline. If you’re curious how this mystery comes out? Pick up a copy of Two Parts Sugar, One Part Murder.


About the Author

Valerie (V. M.) Burns is the author of the Mystery Bookshop Mystery series. Her first book, The Plot is Murder, was nominated for an Agatha Award for Best Debut Novel. She is the author of the Dog Club Mystery Series, the RJ Franklin Mysteries, a three-time finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards, and an Edgar Award-nominated short story. Her newest series, Baker Street Mysteries, will release later this year, and her Pet Detective Mystery series will release in 2023. Valerie is on the board of Sisters in Crime and the Southeastern Chapter of Mystery Writers of America. She is also a member of Dog Writers of America, Crime Writers of Color, and International Thriller Writers. She is a manager for a Fortune 100 company and a mentor in the Writing Popular Fiction Program at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA. Born and raised in northwestern Indiana, Valerie currently lives in the southeastern United States with her two poodles. Readers can visit her website at vmburns.com.

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Lethal Legacies (A Washington Whodunit) by Colleen Shogan


It's springtime in Washington, D.C. and congressional staffer Kit Marshall has more on her plate than she can handle. With her boss campaigning for an open U.S. Senate seat, Kit is left to run the office in her absence and manage a new week long American history extravaganza filled with high-profile events, lectures, and receptions.

When the Director of the Capitol Visitor's Center ends up dead, Kit springs into action to clear a longtime friend, who becomes the prime suspect in the murder. With her best pal Meg pressuring her to solve the mystery quickly, Kit must figure out how to navigate her closest relationships while keeping an eye out for the diabolical killer.

The investigation takes Kit across the city to famous locations, including Georgetown University, the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, and the White House.

When the killer strikes a second time, the pressure to solve the crimes intensifies. Has our favorite Capitol Hill sleuth finally met her match? In the end, Kit learns the hard way that history tends to repeat itself, often with deadly consequences.

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Praise for the Series

“The mystery is perplexing—for Kit and company, and for me—and well done. I was impressed by the complexity of the murder plot. I enjoyed the political theme, and all the details about lobbyists.” —Jane Reads

“To someone who has mastered that uniquely Washington skill of bobbling two cell phones and a glass of wine without spilling a drop, solving a murder is practically child’s play.” —HillRag

“A solid choice for political junkies and readers of ­Maggie ­Sefton, Fred Hunter, and Mike Lawson.” —Library Journal

“Readers who enjoy amateur sleuth mysteries written in the style of Agatha Christie will enjoy this promising debut mystery.” —The Washington Independent Review of Books


Excerpt

We walked down the aisle of the tent and arrived at the viewing area of the catafalque. There was a ten-foot perimeter around the display, marked by brass stanchions and red velvet rope. Even without stepping over the barrier, it was apparent that something was underneath the black funeral cloth covering the catafalque.

Meg spoke in a shaky voice. “What’s lying on the catafalque?”

I bit the inside of my lip. “I don’t know. Should I get the police officer?”

We looked back toward the entrance of the tent. If he was still there, it wasn’t obvious. “Someone could be playing a cruel hoax,” said Meg.

Relief instantly washed over me. “You’re right. It might be a clever trick.”

“Are you going to . . .” Meg pointed at the catafalque. “Check it out?” Guests would be arriving soon for the display. We needed to remove whatever was underneath the cloth so it would be ready for visitors by nine o’clock.

“This is ridiculous,” I said, with more confidence than I felt. “I don’t have time for practical jokes.”

I unhooked the red velvet rope from the stanchion and walked up to the catafalque. After taking a deep breath, I pulled back the black broadcloth. All I needed to see was the brown cascading hair before pulling my hand back. This was no hoax. There was a dead body resting on the Lincoln funeral stand.


About the Author

Colleen J. Shogan has been reading mysteries since the age of six. A political scientist by training, Colleen has taught American politics at several universities and previously worked on Capitol Hill as a legislative staffer in the United States Senate and as a senior executive at the Library of Congress. She is currently the Senior Vice President of the White House Historical Association.

Colleen is a member of Sisters in Crime. "Stabbing in the Senate" was awarded the Next Generation Indie prize for Best Mystery in 2016. "Homicide in the House" was a 2017 finalist for the RONE Award for Best Mystery. “Calamity at the Continental Club” was a 2018 finalist in the “best cozy mystery” at Killer Nashville. “Larceny at the Library” won the 2021 IPPY bronze medal for mystery. She lives in Arlington, Virginia with her husband Rob and their beagle mutt Conan.

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Worse than Murder by Stephen Wechselblatt

 

Mystery / Thriller

Date Published: 03-01-2022

Publisher: Barringer Press

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Homicide detective John Carver thought he'd seen it all. But when a young woman's body is discovered floating in the rooftop water tank at a skid-row hotel and a local new-age psychic claims to have seen that young woman moments before her death, he quickly realizes he's in unfamiliar territory. Soon he's thrust into an investigation that makes him question everything he believes in.

~~ Amazon ~~


Excerpt

It’s time. The SS bolts on the watch he wore while policing the Sobibor Concentration Camp 75 years ago whisper, the Holocaust Memorial service is starting. He glances down at the lot. Full. The cars that circled the streets on all sides of the temple have parked. Their drivers are inside the sanctuary.

He lives his hiding place, beside a dormer, and scurries crablike across the sloping roof over to the air vent twenty feet away. He wears a state-of-the-art military grade gas mask and carries a limp bag that swings back and forth. He reaches the main air vent, stops, and rubs his fingers over it, savoring the chill of flesh against metal. Now in a borrowed body, he’s flushed, excited. His senses have returned. He feels everything: the quickening of his breath; the infinitesimal widening of an artery; the fevered pulse of elation.

He unscrews the vent. He hears a violin playing softly in a minor key. The voice of a frail old man who speaks of suffering. He smiles. Music, memories and prayers won’t help.

The Master of Death is no longer an outcast. Shulamit’s perfumed hair will turn to ashes again.

He unscrews the vent, removes his gift from the bag, and carefully drops the pellets of Zykon B. Flattening his body along the roof, he tries to make himself invisible, and waits for the cries of the dying to reach his ears.


 

About the Author


Stephen Wechselblatt received his Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. Thirty years later he moved to the mountains of North Carolina and began writing fiction. His book of short stories, Diamonds and Moths was published in 2017. Worse than Murder is his first novel.

~~ Website ~~

 

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Charleston Conundrum: A Liz Adams Mystery by Stacy Wilder


A Cozy Mystery With a Twist…

Liz Adams never imagined when she moved to Charleston with her truth sniffing Labrador retriever, Duke, that she would use her skills as a private investigator to avoid winding up on Death Row.

Liz’s life is upended when her best friend, Peg, is murdered and she becomes a suspect. Liz’s gun was the murder weapon. Tensions flare between Liz and the cops as she rises to the top of their suspect list.

At the request of Peg’s father, Liz agrees to take on the investigation. Riding a roller coaster of emotions, Liz uncovers many secrets Peg kept from her despite their being best friends. The suspects include a cast of characters: the ex-husband, the boyfriend, a coworker, several neighbors, and family members.

Charleston Conundrum takes the reader from Charleston, South Carolina, to Paris and back in the emotional unraveling of Peg’s life and death to a killer ending.

Amazon ~~ B&N ~~ Google ~~ Blue Willow Bookshop ~~ Murder by the Book

 

Recipe

Liz’s King Ranch Chicken

Ingredients:

1 can cream of mushroom soup                      8 oz. (2 cups) cheddar cheese

1 can cream of chicken soup                          1 package corn tortillas

1 can Rotel tomatoes                                      1white onion diced

1 cup chicken stock                                        1 green bell pepper diced

rotisserie chicken                                            1 Tsp ancho chili powder

9x12 baking dish                                             ½ tsp garlic salt

Pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Place corn tortillas in a bowl and cover with chicken stock. Soak until soft.

Shred chicken. Fine dice onion and bell pepper. Combine soup and cheese in a separate bowl. Use half of the tortillas to cover the bottom of the baking dish. Layer half of the chicken on top followed by half of the onion and green pepper. Follow with half of the cheese/soup mixture.  Season. Repeat. Pour can of Rotel on top.

Bake for thirty minutes.

Enjoy!


About the Author

Stacy writes mysteries, children’s stories, short stories, and poetry. Her debut novel, Charleston Conundrum, is the first in the Conundrum mystery series.

Stacy’s mission is to deliver a delightful story to readers of all ages while benefiting a larger community. She donates a portion of the proceeds from the sales of her books to causes that support wildlife conservation, and the homeless, both people and pets. A portion of the proceeds from Charleston Conundrum are donated to National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

As well as writing, Stacy is passionate about her faith, family, Labradors, the causes that she supports, the beach, art, and reading books.

She and her husband live in Houston, Texas with a totally spoiled Labrador retriever, Eve.

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August 16 – Books a Plenty Book Reviews – REVIEW, CHARACTER INTERVIEW
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August 19 – Baroness Book Trove – SPOTLIGHT
August 19 – Literary Gold – AUTHOR INTERVIEW
August 20 – #BRVL Book Review Virginia Lee Blog – SPOTLIGHT
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August 20 – Sneaky the Library Cat’s blog – CHARACTER INTERVIEW
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August 23 – Ascroft, eh? – CHARACTER INTERVIEW
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Death in a Pale Hue by Susan Van Kirk


Who knew going home could be deadly?

I will show them success. Thirty-year-old artist Jill Madison repeats this mantra when she returns to her small hometown to restart her life. Hired to manage a new community art center, she vows to make it successful so the people of her town will have what she did not have—an education in the arts. She no sooner accepts the job than a burglar makes off with an irreplaceable sculpture and workers find a ghastly surprise in the basement. Investigating places Jill right in the path of a murderer.

How will she keep her job, run her first big event, and escape a killer who plans to paint her out of the picture permanently?

Amazon ~~ Barnes and Noble ~~ Kobo ~~ IndieBound


 

Excerpt 

Our old neighbors’ yards came into view, and I took, out of habit, the short cut through the back yards to get to my house faster.

I heard my brother Tom’s voice in my head. “Don’t go out alone. Don’t be by yourself after dark. This guy means business.” We had huge trees all through the neighborhood, and if anyone were following me, he would have had lots of cover and shadows. I walked as fast as I could, my breath coming heavily, my heart pounding in my ears.

Besides the thump-thump of my heartbeat, I thought I could hear footsteps following me. Was I imagining them? I couldn’t stop to check it out, so I kept moving as fast as I could. I was into the Wendovers’ yard, and once I cleared the house, I took a tiny glance back. I was sure I saw a shadow move near the old oak in the Palmers’ yard.

That was when I began to run.

I sprinted across Mary Street, its one meager streetlight down the block shining on the asphalt. Racing across the smooth surface, I had two more neighborhood yards to go. Looking back, I thought I saw a dark figure—a black shadow—moving along near Palmers’ trees on an exact line with me. Into Driscolls’ yard, running, running, with another swing set and a round umbrella-table, an above-ground pool affording me a little cover. Out of Driscolls’ yard and into ours, running as fast as I could go now, my breath coming out in spurts, my legs exhausted.

My red silk neck scarf had come loose from my neck and fallen off behind me, but instead of stopping to go back for it, I pulled my tote from my elbow where it had slipped, and my fingers rifled through lipstick, wallet, tissues, pens, receipts, lip balm, and, finally, thank God, keys. Grasping them, my fingers sorted around until I found the familiar house key. Up the steps to the back deck. Opening the screen door, I pushed the key home, pulled it out, stumbled over the threshold, dropped my tote, locked the screen and the inside door, and collapsed into a kitchen chair, totally out of breath and shaking. I hadn’t turned on a light. I simply sat in the dark, my chest heaving up and down, up and down, my legs stretched out to stop their shaking.

I’m not sure how long I sat there, quivering in the dark. Had I imagined someone? I knew I had heard twigs breaking, but couldn’t it have been squirrels or neighborhood cats or other nocturnal creatures? The shadows—trees? I was used to studying shadows since they were an integral part of painting, but right now my terror was conflicting with my vision. I began to take deep smooth breaths, laid my head back, listened to the quiet. Not gonna tell Tom, I thought. He’d kill me. He’d lock me in their house until I was forty.

Finally, I rose, kicked off my shoes, almost stumbled over my tote, and carried it out to the dining room, still not turning on a light. I began systematically pulling shades and curtains on the first floor. My anxiety level was still high, my heart slower but still pounding softly in my head.

There, I thought. Home at last. Doors locked. All is well. I walked back out to the kitchen and considered turning on the light. No, I’d turn on the light out on the back pole at the far end of the yard near the shed, plus the one on the deck. Clicking the switches by the back door, I pulled open the curtains on the window a narrow slit and peeked out into the now well-lit yard. No one lurked anywhere.

Just before pulling the curtains shut again, I gasped, my face flushed and tingly.

Hanging from the handrail on the deck, tied with a knot, was my red silk scarf.


About the Author

Susan Van Kirk lives at the center of the universe—the Midwest—and writes during the ridiculously cold, snowy, icy winters. Why leave the house and break something? Her Endurance Mysteries—Three May Keep a Secret, The Locket: From the Casebook of TJ Sweeney, Marry in Haste, Death Takes No Bribes and The Witch’s Child—are humorous cozies about a retired schoolteacher in the small town of Endurance who keeps finding herself in the middle of murders. She has also written a historical mystery called A Death at Tippitt Pond. Her latest book, Death in a Pale Hue, is the first of a new series from Level Best Books. She’s a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and president of the online writing group at Sisters in Crime.

Website ~~ Facebook ~~ Instagram ~~ Twitter ~~ Goodreads ~~ BookBub

Heroes Ever Die by J. A. Crawford

Heroes Ever Die by J A Crawford Banner

Heroes Ever Die

by J. A. Crawford

August 1-31, 2022 Virtual Book Tour

Synopsis:

Heroes Ever Die by J A Crawford


In his world, everyone wears a mask.

When the actors who play iconic superheroes in big screen blockbusters start dying on set, Ken Allen, failed actor and neophyte detective, answers the call after the blame falls on effects expert Ray Ford, Ken’s oldest friend.

But the deaths are not accidental. Someone is killing heroes. Maybe for love, maybe for money. Maybe for both. Ken Allen finds himself outmatched and outgunned when he learns that Ray Ford’s banished apprentice makes weapons that are anything but props.


 

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: CamCat Books
Publication Date: August 16th 2022
Number of Pages: 304
ISBN: 0744305926 (ISBN13: 9780744305920)
Series: Ken Allen Super Sleuth Series, #2
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads | IndieBound | CamCat Books


Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

FALL HAD COME to This Town, the season where hopes spring eternal, with new productions shooting up to bloom or be nipped in the bud. I was on the studio backlot, gaping at everything like a tourist. There was a reason why I couldn’t wipe the grin off my face.

I was about to meet my hero.

I don’t often ask for favors. Whether it’s a character strength or flaw, I am far more comfortable helping others than I am being helped. But when I heard Dave King was coming out of seclusion, I had to meet him. Just once. And thank him for doing so much for me, a person he didn’t know existed.

Of course, the one man who could grant an audience with King was the person I owed the most.

Ray Ford was the “Magician of Make-Believe”—the premier special-effects expert in the entertainment industry for more than six decades. Last season, when the rest of the world pegged me a serial killer, Ray fabricated the host of gadgets that elevated me from

mild-mannered to super. In return, he played spectator to my adventures and got to test his inventions under real-life conditions.

Ray was currently transforming mild-mannered actors into silver-screen superheroes. There were two major players—production companies with rival expanded universes—filming and releasing simultaneously in a box-office death match. The demand for spectacle and escalating budgets had led to Ray working both sides of the fence. I didn’t want to imagine what his NDAs must look like.

I got far as I could without an escort—corralled with a crowd of fans waving their phones around in hopes of catching the barest whiff of a leak. There was no shortage of ex-[insert armed service branch here] private police personnel hoping to be discovered through a guarding gig, and my banner year didn’t elevate my status to the height required to part a sea of badges. I took shelter in the shadow of a warehouse and drank in the October air. It was only seventy-five degrees, but my blazer was a sculpted sheath of ballistic gel. While nothing less than a bursting shell could penetrate its surface, the material also blocked the cross breeze. I dug out my phone and jumped back into the Dave King omnibus collection I had downloaded for long plane rides.

Ray located me via the bell he’d hung around my wrist. My custom-built smart watch had all the extras, including GPS, a heart-rate monitor, and a microphone which never turned off, for Ray’s eavesdropping pleasure. You didn’t think about how much you talked to yourself until someone was listening in on every word. He waved at me from the far side of the security cordon. An extra-large fanboy hard-blocked my route.

He ignored my polite requests and apologies, so I spiked his phone like a volleyball.

“Dude, what the hell?”

I shoved my way into the opening. “That’s what you get for filming vertically.”

He sized me up, decided I wasn’t bully material, and went searching for his phone.

Ray admitted me through the gate. He was as I saw him last, muscle and gristle shrink-wrapped into an one-piece racing suit. His russet skin was free of stubble and his head was razored into a reflective surface.

“Well, well. If it isn’t Ken Allen, the detective to the stars himself.” “Quiet, you’ll draw a crowd.”

Ray laughed. I had been a shamus for exactly two cases, one where I cleared myself for murder and another which had taken me overseas.

Security permitted me through after Ray presented a lanyard with a hybrid hologram/bar code. I hung it around my neck, and we wove through the time traveler’s menagerie that was multiple-production traffic toward the soundstage.

Ray opted for chatter. “How was your flight?”

“Are you telling me you can’t listen in when I’m on airplane mode?”

“Ken, help me out here. I’ve been practicing my small talk. According to those internet sites, I need to work on my people skills.”

As someone who had been the subject of memes for more than a decade, I felt Ray’s pain. “I warned you not to look.”

When Ray replied, he kept his volume low. “It wasn’t by choice.

My last few gigs have had leaks. Been trying to track the source.”

I knew which soundstage was ours from the drones. Constructs of Ray’s design, they patrolled both the interior and exterior of the hangar-sized structure. Like any magician, Ray couldn’t have the audience peeking behind the curtain. But time was catching up to him. Everyone had a camera in their pocket loaded with apps capable of instantly reaching millions. As kids, we were warned about the rise of Big Brother. What no one foresaw was that we would become him. The guard at the door scanned our lanyards before letting us pass, including Ray, who had been gone five minutes. I stepped into the

façade of a factory. A cauldron that could have boiled a tyrannosaurus rex belched molten metal into the air. A catwalk OSHA never would have approved ended over the cauldron like a diving board. The grated floor allowed a peek at a legion of killer robots idling below. Orange light glowed from off-screen sources. The light wasn’t there to provide visibility, but instead to create shadows and suggest heat. Smoke machines added a haze of steam, enhancing the effect.

All the trappings of moviemaking were present: the light arrays, boom mikes, camera tracks, and monitors. At least one person was assigned to each object. Everyone had a badge hanging from their neck, even the saints stationed at craft services.

An average-sized white guy in a modern, tactical version of a Confederate army jacket stepped onto the catwalk. Clutching fighting sticks that resembled rolled-up scrolls, he inched forward like a dog who wasn’t supposed to be in the kitchen.

I couldn’t contain my excitement. “Bill O’Wrongs is the villain in this one?”

“Yeah,” Ray said. “Wait here.”

When you’re a kid playing pretend, you either want to be a cop or a robber. Me, I was a cop all the way, right down to the embarrassing daydreams of saving my fourth-grade teacher from masked kidnappers. I’ve never been a rule breaker by nature. So, when Ray told me to stay put, I stayed put.

There was plenty to take in. The production was an expert operation, performed by a crew who had worked together many times, churning out franchise faire assembly-line style. I had appeared—not acted but appeared, you’d agree if you’d seen it—in exactly one movie, whose production wasn’t exactly traditional. If I had my way, that flick would have stayed secret forever. Then again, it was what got me here. I guess you could say I had a love/hate relationship with my origin story.

Someone’s assistant approached me.

I knew it was an assistant from the way he eased into my eye line, instead of confronting me as to who I was and what I thought I was doing. Which was good, because I didn’t have a firm answer for either. Not now, not ever.

“Mr. Allen?”

“Mr. Allen is my father. Please, call me Mr. Allen Junior.”

The assistant made a note in his phone, and I immediately regretted the joke.

“Mr. West would like to speak with you.”

The assistant was unable to hide his curiosity over how a person of my station could possibly know Flint West. I waved up to Ray above me, but he was absorbed in his work. If he needed to find me, he could. “Then let’s not keep Mr. West waiting.”

The assistant led me outside while not taking his eyes off me, as if he were watching his kid. Mr. West’s trailer was nicer than every place I’d lived up until three months ago, when my life took a ride on the roller-coaster that was the twenty-four-hour news cycle. The assistant waved a key fob across the door, and I heard a latch click.

“Mr. West is inside, Mr. Allen Junior.”

A response would have only created more problems, so I stepped into a curtained landing area, stopping to ensure the door locked back into place. A deep voice boomed from the private side of the cloth barrier.

“That you, Ken Allen? Get in here!”

I pushed the curtain aside and ran face-first into Flint West. He squeezed me until I was ready to pop before pushing me back to give me a once-over.

“You miss me, Ken? You know I missed you.”

Flint was in a silk robe, boxer briefs that could have been painted on, and nothing else. His smile made he smile.

“Your body sure didn’t,” I said. “You were so jacked in that last Civil Warriors flick people thought it was CGI.”

Flint shook his head, smiling at suffering-gone-by. “Man, we had paramedics off camera with IVs ready. I looked like that for maybe on hour. They couldn’t get the lighting right.”

He gestured for me to sit before taking a seat himself. I’d never known someone who could maintain genuine, interested eye contact for as long as Flint could.

It forced me to say something. “Becoming an ideal carries a cost.”

Even before computer magic, there were myriad methods to elevate a humble human to heroic status. One was extreme dehydration. In combat sports, competitors only had to be at their fighting weight for a scant moment on the scale. The best way to do so while maintaining your muscle mass was to eliminate as much liquid from your body as possible. Typically, by sweating it out.

It was a dangerous practice. People have died cutting too much weight, particularly those of Flint West’s proportions. And I was the one who taught him the trade. In my previous alter ego as the “Sensei to the Stars,” I had acted as both personal trainer and stage-fighting guru for the A-list.

Flint West was my masterpiece.

“So, Ken, you got a minute for the little people, now that you’re a big-time crime fighter?”

I leaned forward, elbows on my thighs. “Not sure where you’ve been getting your news, but I cleared my name and went on safari.”

Flint wasn’t buying it. “Mmm-hmm. Well, your safari buddy and I have the same agent. You saved her career, man.”

The way Flint said it, we could have been talking about his mother. The pedestal he was putting me on was high enough to end us both if I tumbled off. Flint’s emotions were as herculean as the rest of him. The intensity that had served him on the gridiron translated perfectly to the big screen.

You felt what Flint was feeling.

“What’s on your mind?” I asked.

“I have a friend.” Flint started having second thoughts. He crushed his lips together. His jaw was so muscular it had striations. When you are cast to wear a mask, it’s all about the jawline.

“You have lots of friends,” I replied. “Including me. This isn’t going anywhere you don’t want it to go.”

Flint nodded at my reassurance. Around rep number five, he unflexed his mandibles. “This friend of mine, he’s getting into something big. Real big. And dangerous. He’s used to going it alone, but I think he could use your help.”

The vagueness was giving me a headache. I massaged the bridge of my nose. “I’m going to need more proper nouns here, Flint.”

“If I were to hire you, would my friend have to know you were on the case?”

“I can’t work for a guy who doesn’t know I’m working for him.

And I can’t help someone when I don’t even know his name.”

Flint tapped a fist on his lips to acknowledge I was making some good points, so that was progress. When he spoke again, he kept his hand over his mouth.

“It has to do with Dave King.”

Flint didn’t ask if I knew who Dave King was. We had bonded over our love of all things King, years past. It was no coincidence Flint was playing one of King’s characters on screen.

“What’s going on with Dave King?” I asked.

“What you should do is meet him. See if you hit it off.”

I managed to keep from throwing my hands into the air. “Sounds like a plan.”

Flint nodded some more, adding a smile. “All right. All right.

Okay, Ken. Look, they have to start getting me into costume.” “Has that process gotten any better?”

“A little. It’s like having your own pit crew.” “Well, you did make your name in action vehicles.”

Flint laughed to be polite, then switched right back to sincere. “Look, go talk to Dave. Keep it casual, tell him you and I are buddies.” “I’ll do my best, but when it comes to acting, my track record

speaks for itself.”

This time, Flint’s laugh was genuine.

Flint’s assistant played boatman and guided me back to set, where he pointed out Dave King, who I would have known anywhere. I strolled up next to the legend, strategizing how to break the ice, but King spoke the moment he noticed me.

“It’s too small.”

Dave King had once been a big man. Geometrically cubed, with a block head, a barrel chest, and boxy shoulders. You wondered how a pencil could have survived those scarred, square clamps he had for fingers. Age had taken its toll, shrinking him down and thinning him out, but in my eyes, he would always be a giant.

Dave King, the man who had birthed hundreds of heroes with nothing but a #2 pencil and some bristol board. Dave King, the greatest mythmaker of the modern age.

“I always dreamed big. These are titans we’re talking about.” I stood up straight when King glanced my way but stopped short of puffing out my chest. “Who are you supposed to be? One of mine?”

I was stunned silent.

The first thing I said to Dave King needed to mean something, without coming on too strong. The silence was getting uncomfortable, so I went with what I was thinking.

“I wish.”

Dave King boomed a laugh that turned heads in our direction. “If wishes were fishes, we’d all cast nets. So, who are you playing in this picture show?”

It wasn’t the first time my getup had been mistaken for a costume. While my jacket passed casual inspection, close-up, people realized it was closer to a bulletproof vest than a button-down blazer.

“Myself. I’m Ken Allen.” In an attempt to impress him, I added, “I’m a detective.”

Dave King measured my form with an artist’s eye, fitting me for the role. Whether or not I was qualified, I looked the part. Seasoned, but still in shape and easy on the eyes. He might have drawn me in the role, once upon a time.

I tried to remember any of the hundred questions I’d dreamed of asking him over the years. The kind that demonstrates the depth of your devotion. The ones that mark you as a True Fan.

“Well Ken, if you’re looking for evildoers, take your pick. Here comes a grade-A pack of thieves now. Good to meet you.”

Dave King offered his hand. I don’t usually shake hands on principle, but for him I’d make an exception. His grip tremored as we touched palms, the thick fingers curled like claws. I let him lead, keeping my response a notch less firm. There was too much to tell him. I decided to start with the ending.

“Thank you, Mr. King. Growing up, your work meant the world to me.”

King pursed his lips with a nod. He must have heard the same sentiment a billion times before. A sadness crept into his eyes. I’d blown it. Upset him, when I’d intended the opposite. We untangled hands. I did most of the work. Once his fingers had locked down, they didn’t want to release.

The group Dave King had identified as suspect stopped an arm’s length from us. I knew right away who was in charge, because he was rocking a hoodie and track pants. In a realm of suit and tie, the person in casuals bore the crown. His right hand was a Desi woman who wore a power suit as if it were armor. She studied me, so it was only fair for me to study her back.

In This Town, you had to realign the one-to-ten scale. There were too many tens. Her makeup was impeccable. Professional, with deniability. I knew right away she was smarter than me.

Not that it was a rare occurrence.

“Mr. King,” said the tracksuit-in-charge. “So glad you could make it.”

Only he wasn’t.

A lifetime of taking hits had taught me to trust my instincts. Later on, I could dissect the factors behind my initial read. Off the cuff, my gut was enough.

Dave King’s innards were synced with mine. “Save the speeches.

I’ve got a shelf about to snap from worthless awards.”

I wasn’t sure what to do with myself. I hadn’t gone looking for an awkward situation, it had found me.

Tracksuit read me all wrong. “I didn’t realize you were bringing representation.”

“He’s not a lawyer,” the woman informed him.

“Let’s take this elsewhere, this isn’t our shoot to start with,” Tracksuit decided. When he went to guide Dave King by the shoulder, King shrugged him off.

Realizing my moments on set were numbered, I scanned around for my patron. Ray was above me, with Bill O’Wrongs, on the edge of the catwalk. Ray walked Bill through the stunt, pointing, soothing, and doing everything else he could to reassure an actor who was about to dive into a vat of lava.

The cameras weren’t rolling, so Bill O’Wrongs wasn’t in character. Unless his interpretation of the villain was a guy who nodded nervously between deep breaths. Ray turned Bill O’Wrongs’s back to the pit, then reached out over the threshold and grabbed a handful of air. Try as I might, there was no making out what Ray was attaching to the actor’s costume.

Ray wound his way back to me and guided us to his spot behind the firing line, where he had a battle station bristling with monitors, each displaying a different camera angle.

“I thought they wiped out the wires in post.”

Ray snorted. “If you’re going to do that, why not go ahead and make a cartoon?”

The crew took position, their stillness spreading a contagious tension. I wanted to watch it go down live but got a better view from the monitors. I leaned in, as if another six inches would help the ultra-high-definition images. I knew what was coming but not when. Sitting through the coverage for later editing was torture.

Flint entered from above, crashing through a skylight. Stopping to hover midair, he spread his wings to reveal the golden-taloned symbol on his chest below an eagle cowl. I couldn’t help but play civilian. At least I didn’t point and shout his name. Fortunately, Bill O’Wrongs had it covered.

“Flying Freeman!”

Ray had trimmed Flying Freeman’s avian cowl to take full advantage of Flint’s carved-from-ebony jawline. The sculpted brow accentuated his intense expression. I wasn’t surprised they were still showing his eyes instead of the golden orbs from the comic. It was a dumb move to take away an actor’s biggest tool, and anyone who could have won the role of Flying Freeman would have made damn sure of it in their contract.

Flying Freeman dove with a two-footed kick, which Bill O’Wrongs blocked by crossing his fighting sticks. It was the absolute dumbest way to defend such a massive attack, but it looked great. Flying Freeman drifted back with a beat of his wings and pointed at his foe.

This was where it would cut to a close-up hero shot—complete with a one-liner—in the finished film. But right now, the sausage was getting made, and we sat through twelve more takes of Flying Freeman’s entrance. Ray’s drones swept the set, vacuuming up the not-actually glass and installing the next doomed skylight.

Once the director got what she wanted, they moved on to shooting the rest of the fight scene. There had never been anything like it on film. Flying Freeman kept to the air, attacking Bill O’Wrongs

from every angle. This sort of thing was normally done with computer graphics, but Ray had developed some new version of wirework. A technique which allowed the cameras to zoom, pan, and track to show that the actors were doing their own stunts. I could only make out the wires when one of the players was off their mark. They were woven into a network, like a three-dimensional spiderweb. Ray was playing puppet master via drones.

Bill O’Wrongs’s scrolls were revealed to be chain whips—a little on the nose when fighting a Black hero birthed during the civil rights movement. But it was sure to generate an online debate, and there was no marketing like free marketing. I was blown away by the actor’s skill in manipulating a pair of the most complex weapons in martial arts. Until I realized the whips were also tethered to the drones.

After the second meal break, the director made the decision to push forward to the ending sequence. The announcement caused some grumbles and groans, but she reminded everyone they had fallen behind schedule. Ray winced at her comment, which told me he had something to do with the shooting problems. I put a pin in it and kept quiet on the set.

The sequence came in two beats. In the first, Flint as Flying Freeman started on one knee, wings sheathed as Bill O’Wrongs rained down the chains with both hands. In a surge of determination, Flying Freeman spread his wings, casting the chains aside. From his crouch, Flint launched into the air, delivering an uppercut that sent both him and Bill O’Wrongs airborne. They ascended at two different speeds, Flying Freeman rising high as Bill O’Wrongs drifted weightless.

As Bill O’Wrongs hovered over the smoking cauldron, Flying Freeman flipped in the air and dove toward him. With a colossal hammering punch, he sent Bill O’Wrongs rocketing toward molten justice.

Usually, this kind of stunt was executed at low speed, then sped up in post. But that technique always showed. The little things added up: the steam drifted too fast, or the capes whipped around like flags

in a storm. Small motions became jerky enough to yank the audience into the uncanny valley. Ray had created an effect performed in real time. It had me believing a man could fly.

Bill O’Wrongs plummeted at a rate that would have flagged a radar gun. He started dead center over the cauldron, but the angle was all wrong and he veered toward the lip. I reached out as if I could will what was coming to halt. Bill O’Wrongs clipped the edge of the cauldron. The back of his skull struck the rim, ringing the bowl like a gong. A blink after, he splashed into the faux liquid metal, sending a wave of glowing material into the air, where it cooled into sparks.

Behind me, Ray cursed, once and short. Under his piloting, the drones lifted Bill O’Wrongs out of the cauldron, a limp marionette, and lowered him gently as medical rushed in.

Ray stared into the circle of paramedics, but his thoughts weren’t in the present. The paramedics went through the motions, administering CPR until an ambulance arrived. I caught a glimpse of an EMT trying to straighten Bill O’Wrongs’s airway. I’d seen Pez dispensers with straighter alignments. It wasn’t the first death I had witnessed. I didn’t take it any better this time than the others.

The call came to clear the soundstage. Ray didn’t budge. Almost imperceptivity, he started shaking his head and didn’t stop. An inch left, an inch right. He went back to his bank of monitors and loaded what looked like diagnostics.

“This was no accident, Ken. I don’t make mistakes like this. Not now, not ever.”

Every reply that came to mind, every consolation I considered, fell short, so I kept them to myself.

“I’m not responsible for this. I want you to prove it. I don’t care what it costs or how long it takes.”

Ray’s gadgets had saved my skin ten times over. He never so much as asked for a penny. If the man needed me to tilt at his windmills, so be it.

“This one’s on me, old buddy.”

Before Ray could argue, security swept us off set. We had joined the pileup being funneled toward the doors, when I spied someone who belonged in an entirely different universe.

“Is that Foxman?”

Ray tilted his head, trying to get line of sight through the chaos. “Might be Flying Freeman’s stand-in.”

“Nope. Different capes.” I started shoving a path toward the door. Being a detective meant noticing things that were out of place. Foxman didn’t belong in this universe.

Or on this set.

I forced my way out of the exit into a packed mob. The chatter among the crew was rapidly drawing attention. Running from the scene would only draw more, so I walked with purpose, a guy late for his afternoon roundtable. Actor that I was, it didn’t fool anyone. I raised my badge like a torch to ward off security. There was a lot of ground to cover with a throng of people in it, but it was hard to miss a guy dressed as a fox.

I finally broke free of the crowd and gave pursuit. Three guards tried to stop me to check my lanyard but not hard enough to cause a scuffle. I came around a corner to spot Foxman fifty feet away, taking a selfie with a fan. As the taller guy, he was holding the phone. His cape was wrong. It had four scallops instead of five, and his boots were brown when they should have been gray.

I drew the Quarreler — a fictional nonlethal pistol Ray had made real—and attempted to creep closer. I was inside effective range for the taser darts, but Foxman was cuddled up to a civilian and his cape looked sturdy enough to afford some protection. Foxman caught me out of the corner of his eye.

He was good. He dropped the phone and took out the fan with an elbow in the same motion as he spun toward me. I sent two shots center of mass.

Foxman swept up his cape, soaking both darts. When he completed his spin, he extended an arm toward me. His fluted metallic gauntlet sported twin openings reminiscent of a double-barreled shotgun.

I threw my arm over my face. Twin impacts slammed into my forearm and ribs. As I reeled, Foxman aimed his gauntlet at the ground between us.

Smoke exploded all around me. I forged ahead toward Foxman and clear air. I held my breath, but the cloud attacked my sinuses. My legs stopped working. I broke through on pure momentum only to wipe out on the pavement.

My airway started to close up. I went blind. The sun on my skin felt like a nuclear blast. I tried to call for help, but you need to be able to breathe to talk.

Foxman had taken me down without breaking a sweat. How could I have been so stupid? I forgot about his gadget gauntlet and now I was going to die like some two-bit villain.

***

Excerpt from Heroes Ever Die by JA Crawford. Copyright 2022 by JA Crawford. Reproduced with permission from CamCat Books. All rights reserved.

 

Author Bio:

J A Crawford

Born near Detroit, J. A. Crawford wanted to grow up to be a superhero, before he found out it was more of a hobby. He’s the first in his family to escape the factory line for college. Too chicken to major in writing, he studied Criminal Justice at Wayne State University instead, specializing in criminal procedure and interrogation.

Despite what his family thinks, J. A. is not a spy. When he isn’t writing, he travels the country investigating disaster sites. Before that, he taught Criminal Justice, Montessori Kindergarten, and several martial arts. J. A. is an alum of the Pitch Wars program. In his spare time, he avoids carbohydrates and as many punches as possible.

He loves the stories behind the stories and finds everything under the sun entirely too interesting. J. A. splits his time between Michigan and California. He is married to his first and biggest fan, who is not allowed to bring home any more pets.

 

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