No Body in Blackberry Cove by Ben Cotterill

About the Book

Private investigator Gregg Hunter faces a chilling dilemma when his daughter is kidnapped by unknown assailants. Instead of a ransom, they issue him an solve a baffling murder or lose his daughter forever. Determined to rescue her, Gregg launches dual investigations—one to unravel the murder, another to track down the kidnappers before it's too late.

In the enigmatic town of Blackberry Cove, numerous suspects emerge. As Gregg delves deeper into the shadows, he realizes that the people holding his daughter are convinced the missing man has been brutally killed, despite no body or crime scene. As time passes, the kidnappers grow more impatient and send him a grisly warning. One misstep could cost Gregg his daughter's life.

Gregg's quest for justice becomes a race against the clock to save his daughter. Will he be able to decode the clues in time to rescue her, or will he be consumed by the darkness that threatens to engulf them both?

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At first glance, she was no one.

Her face in the photograph was so disfigured, Gregg could imagine any woman's features in its place, even his daughter's. Found in the basement of a vacant house, she'd been tied up and fired at with a nail gun, repeatedly. Her clothes were pierced, her skin impaled, until finally one nail hit her windpipe and brought the torture to an abrupt end.

The depth of the wounds—quite shallow—meant the killer fired from at least a few feet away. They wouldn't have meant to hit her throat intentionally. Their aim would have been too remarkable.

Rachel Milgram slid another photograph across Gregg's desk. This time not of the dead woman, but of a rugged man. A bead of rainwater trickled from Rachel's loose and parted hair, dampening the picture. Boston's rain was frequent and heavy, and the faulty heating in Gregg's office ensured clients were always soaking his furniture and dripping on his floor.

"This man—Liam Watts—disappeared on the night she was murdered," Rachel said. "We believe he was murdered as well, but his body was never found."

Gregg studied the file. "The town's in Vermont?"

"Yes, Blackberry Cove."

Rachel adjusted her silk scarf and tucked the ends into her trench coat, which she then unbuttoned. Beneath, she sported a black sweater. She wasn't law enforcement. Another private citizen was hiring Gregg's services. The only strange thing was, his PI services usually involved cheating husbands or workers' comp scams, not murder investigations.

Gregg tapped the pictures of the dead woman. "Tell me about her."

"Mayor's wife—Clementine Stannard. Originally from New Jersey. Met the mayor when they studied in Montpelier. Got married shortly after. Loved by everyone, according to the reports."

"What exactly do you want from me?"

Rachel reached into her pocket and revealed a sheet of folded paper which she uncrumpled and placed on the desk. She slid it closer, but Gregg didn't have to read it. He'd recognize that article anywhere.

Next to the column of texts were two pictures. The first was of him dressed in his suit, standing next to his old partner, Jim. The second picture showed a smiling twelve-year-old girl named Emilie Jones.

The article reported the story of how young Emilie had been missing for nearly twenty-eight hours. She disappeared after her dad dropped her off at school. The teachers said she never showed up for class, and none of the other students remembered seeing her.

The BPD questioned Emilie's uncle, establishing he had been molesting the girl for years. They'd focused all their attention on him, believing he killed her after deciding she was old enough to talk about the abuse.

Gregg, however, as the article retold, explored a different theory. Thinking the uncle's wife knew more than she was letting on, he went back to interview her. He believed that not only did the aunt know about the abuse, but she also blamed Emilie for taking away her husband. He found the twelve-year-old girl in the trunk of the aunt's car, gagged and beaten. Barely breathing. A couple more hours, the paramedics said, and she'd have had no chance.

"So, what?" Gregg asked. "I got lucky nearly a decade ago, and now you think I'm Batman?"

"It must have been a great feeling," Rachel said, "to find that girl alive."

"After the birth of my daughter, it was the happiest moment of my life."

"You didn't find her by luck. You have a unique perspective on things, Mr. Hunter."

"Miss Milgram." Gregg glanced at his watch. "The job?"

"I want that unique perspective on the missing man in Blackberry Cove."

Gregg stood. "Sorry, Miss Milgram. I don't leave Boston. Send me copies of the case files if you want an assessment."

Rachel remained seated. "Since the woman was the mayor's wife, Blackberry Cove's police force has focused all their resources on finding her killer for three months with no luck. They're barely investigating the missing man."

"I can't."

"I'm willing to pay you—"

"It's not about money. Family priorities. I'm sorry." He shuffled around the corner of his desk and opened the door to his office.

Though his daughter probably wouldn't, Gregg liked to be nearby on the off chance she might call and ask to see him, perhaps for dinner or a movie. She was the only reason he still solved cases. Trying to prove to her—even without his badge and after the divorce—that he still could.

Rachel dragged herself to the door. "I thought you helped people, Mr. Hunter. This man needs help, and no one is doing anything about it. You didn't even ask anything about him. Don't you care?"

"If you've read that article, you know the answer to that," he replied.

Rachel expelled a short breath, then buttoned her coat. She forced a polite smile that was tinged with frustration and left the office. Gregg grabbed his umbrella and followed suit.


About the Author

Ben Cotterill was born and raised in Stirling, Scotland. Interested in understanding extreme human behaviors, he studied forensic psychology. After earning his PhD, he moved to the United States to teach forensic psychology to university students. When not working or writing fiction, he spends his weekends hiking the Appalachians and his vacations exploring as much of the world as possible.

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Murder To My Ears (An Octavia Fields Mysteries) by Rebecca McKinnon

About the Book

Octavia Fields should know better than to judge things by their appearance. After all, most people don’t expect a nomadic hippie to be a classical violist—let alone one who runs a seasonal music shop at Aerie Pines, the summer home of the Aerie Peaks Symphony.

But when her business season starts off on the wrong note, it’s obviously the persnickety concertmaster’s fault. If he hadn’t turned up dead—leaving Octavia to find his body— she wouldn’t have to deal with the handsome detective who isn’t sure what to think of her impressive arrest record.

With symphony members cornering Octavia to pass on “evidence” by way of sotto-voce rumors, it shouldn’t surprise her to learn the helpful musicians aren’t the only ones who believe Octavia’s helping with the investigation. When a threatening letter arrives, it’s clear the killer thinks she’s playing harmony to the detective, too.

When the detective doesn’t appear to be making progress on the case, Octavia decides it’s up to her to solve the mystery—before the killer hears their cue to silence her!

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About the Author

Rebecca McKinnon enjoys playing with her imaginary friends and introducing them to others through her writing. She dreams of living in the middle of nowhere but has been unable to find an acceptable location that wouldn’t require crossing an ocean.

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A Sour Note by Jill Piscitello

About the Book

On the heels of a public, broken engagement, Maeve Cleary returns to her childhood home in Hampton Beach, NH. When a dead body turns up behind her mother’s music school, three old friends land on the suspect list. Licking her wounds soon takes a back seat to outrunning the paparazzi who spin into a frenzy, casting her in a cloud of suspicion. Maeve juggles her high school sweetheart, a cousin with a touch of clairvoyance, a no-nonsense detective, and an apologetic, two-timing ex-fiancé. Will the negative publicity impact business at the Music Box— the very place she’d hoped to make a fresh start?

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With his mouth set in a grim line, he waited.

If anyone else had enough nerve to presume she owed them an explanation, she would respond with a solid mind your own business. Instead, the seventeen-year-old still inside her refused to tell him to get lost. “He was hiding money in his office.” This was one of those times when learning how to wait a few beats before blurting out inflammatory information would come in handy. Each second of passing silence decreased her ability to breathe in the confined space. She turned the ignition and switched on the air conditioner.

“How do you know?” His volume just above a whisper, each dragged-out word hung in the air.

“I found it.”

“When were you in his office?” He swiped at a bead of sweat trickling down the side of his face, then positioned a vent toward him.

“Last night.” When would she learn to bite her tongue? Finn’s switch from rapid-fire scolding to slow, deliberate questioning left her unable to swallow over the sandpaper lump in her throat.

“Where was Vic?”

She stared at the back of the building, wishing she’d kept her mouth shut. “He’d left for the night.” If she averted her gaze, she could pretend his eyeballs weren’t bugging out of his head, and his jaw didn’t need a crane to haul it off his chest.

“You were at the town hall after hours? Did anyone see you?”

“A custodian opened his door for me.” She snuck a glance. Sure enough, features contorted in shock and horror replaced his boy-next-door good looks.


About the Author

Jill Piscitello is a teacher with a passion for writing and an avid fan of multiple literary genres. Although she divides her reading hours among several books at a time, a lighthearted story offering an escape from the real world can always be found on her nightstand.

A native of New England, Jill lives with her family and three well-loved cats. When not planning lessons or reading and writing, she can be found spending time with her family, traveling, and going on light hikes. Jill loves to try out new restaurants, but if truth be told, she will order a chicken Caesar salad wrap whenever possible.

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All That Glitters by Mike Martin

About the Book

Sergeant Winston Windflower is moving on to a new chapter of his life, no longer an RCMP officer but now a Community Safety Officer in his home of Grand Bank, Newfoundland.

But when a body is found in the bed and breakfast he co-owns, diamonds are found in the body’s digestive system, and then Windflower’s friend Dr. Sanjay, who was given the diamonds for safekeeping, is kidnapped, it’s clear that crime has returned once more to Grand Bank.

Windflower finds himself back in the thick of it, helping his newly promoted friend, RCMP Corporal Eddie Tizzard, track down a ruthless diamond smuggler who will stop at nothing — kidnapping, even murder — to pull off his dirty business.

This is another finely spun Windflower mystery that contrasts suspense and tension with the joys of friendship, family, and gratitude.

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After hugs and kisses and pats on the head all around, Windflower managed to get out of the house and walked to the B&B. He had just opened the front door of the beautifully restored inn when Levi Parsons, the manager, came running towards him.

“We think he’s dead,” said Levi.

“Who’s dead?” asked Windflower.

“The man in Room 12,” said Levi. “Beulah tried to get in to make up his room, but the door is locked and bolted from the inside. And there’s not a sound.”

Beulah, the cleaner and part-time server, came around the corner from the kitchen when she heard Windflower arrive.

“I don’t know for sure, but there’s something funny going on,” she said. “We haven’t really seen him all week, and now there’s no answer when I knocks on his door.”

“Maybe he’s sleeping,” said Windflower.

“His breakfast tray is still outside his door. I knows we don’t see much of him, but he always takes his meals in and leaves the empty one outside. Then he often goes out in the morning, and that’s when I cleans up,” said Beulah.

“Sneaks out,” said Levi. “I only seen him once. When he checked in. I haven’t seen him since.”

“Let’s not jump to conclusions,” said Windflower. “What’s his name?”

“Robert Smart,” said Levi. “From Burlington, Ontario. That’s his Cadillac parked on the side. He wanted a safe and secure place for his car.”

Windflower climbed the stairs to the second floor and walked down the corridor to Room 12. He knocked on the door and called out the man’s name. No answer. He took the keys from Levi and tried the lock. But they were right. The deadbolt was locked from the inside.

He looked at Levi and then at Beulah. “Do you have a couple of hair pins I can borrow?” he asked Beulah.

The woman looked at him funny but reached into her hair and pulled out one bobby pin and then another. She handed them to him.

“Don’t look,” he said to Levi as he inserted the closed side of one bobby pin into the bottom portion of the lock. Then he broke the other pin in half and pushed it into the top of the lock and jiggled it back and forth. After a little while he could feel the deadbolt moving and finally unlocking. He swung the door open.

About the Author

Mike Martin was born in St. John’s, NL on the east coast of Canada and now lives and works in Ottawa, Ontario. He is a long-time freelance writer and his articles and essays have appeared in newspapers, magazines and online across Canada as well as in the United States and New Zealand.

He is the award-winning and best-selling author of the award-winning Sgt. Windflower Mystery series set in beautiful Grand Bank. There are now 13 books in this light mystery series with the publication of All That Glitters.

A Tangled Web was shortlisted in 2017 for the best light mystery of the year, and Darkest Before the Dawn won the 2019 Bony Blithe Light Mystery Award.

Some Sgt. Windflower Mysteries are now available as audiobooks and the latest A Tangled Web was released as an audiobook in 2023. All audiobooks are available from Audible in Canada and around the world.

Mike is Past Chair of the Board of Crime Writers of Canada, a national organization promoting Canadian crime and mystery writers and a member of the Newfoundland Writers’ Guild and Capital Crime Writers.

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Collecting Can Be Murder (Carmen De Luca Art Sleuth Mysteries) by Jennifer S. Alderson

About the Book

Coming out of retirement can be deadly…

After tragedy struck three years earlier, art sleuth Carmen De Luca vowed to never work in the field again. But fifty is too young to fill her days with water aerobics and bingo, so when her former partner calls and begs for her help, Carmen gladly agrees.

Yet after their first assignment – the recovery of a rare medieval prayer book from an eccentric collector living in rural France – goes horribly wrong, Carmen ends up in the crosshairs of both the local police and a murderer!

With her target dead and the stolen book missing, she and her partner will have to pull out all of the stops to sleuth out the true killer’s identity – before their stay in France becomes permanent.

Introducing Carmen De Luca, an art sleuth with a nose for mystery and the job of locating valuable artwork stolen from museums around the world. If you love strong and resourceful heroines, puzzling mysteries, and a dash of art history, pick up Collecting Can Be Murder now!

Carmen De Luca Art Sleuth Mysteries:
Book One: Collecting Can Be Murder
Book Two: A Statue To Die For
More adventures coming soon!

These mysteries contain no graphic violence, sex, or strong language.

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About the Author

Jennifer S. Alderson was born in San Francisco, grew up in Seattle, and currently lives in Amsterdam. After traveling extensively around Asia, Oceania, and Central America, she lived in Darwin, Australia, before finally settling in the Netherlands.

Jennifer’s love of travel, art, and culture inspires her award-winning Zelda Richardson Mystery series, her Travel Can Be Murder Cozy Mysteries, and her Carmen De Luca Art Sleuth Mysteries. Her background in journalism, multimedia development, and art history enriches her novels.

When not writing, she can be found perusing a museum, biking around Amsterdam, or enjoying a coffee along the canal while planning her next research trip.

For more information about the author and her upcoming novels, please visit

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How the Murder Crumbles (A Cookie Shop Mystery) by Debra Sennefelder

About the Book

Debra Sennefelder whips up cookies and crime in a delicious new cozy series, perfect for fans of Joanne Fluke and Peg Cochran.

Wingate, Connecticut, is famed as one of the top ten shopping destinations in the state, and home to Mallory Monroe’s beloved Cookie Shop—a place where patrons are greeted with the heavenly aroma of freshly baked cookies that are as beautifully decorated as they are insanely delicious.

But things aren’t going so smoothly for Mallory. Her two employees are a disaster in the kitchen, she catches her boyfriend with another woman, and she’s seen having a fierce argument with food blogger Beatrice Wright, who accuses Mallory of stealing her cookie recipe. Then Beatrice turns up dead in her kitchen, flour outlining her body and a bloodied marble rolling pin nearby. Mallory immediately becomes suspect number one, her sales plummet, and she desperately tries to clear her name—but that’s not the only murder the killer is baking up.

Debra Sennefelder has cooked up a perfect recipe—endearing characters, a picture-perfect evocation of small-town life, and a quaint sweets shop. And just when things get a little too comfy, there’s always a murder or two for good measure.

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About the Author

Debra Sennefelder, the author of the Food Blogger Mystery series, the Resale Boutique Mystery series, and the Cookie Shop mystery series, is an avid reader who reads across a range of genres, but mystery fiction is her obsession. Her interest in people and relationships is channeled into her novels against a backdrop of crime and mystery. When she’s not reading, she enjoys cooking and baking and as a former food blogger, she is constantly taking photographs of her food. Yeah, she’s that person.

Born and raised in New York City, she now lives and writes in Connecticut with her family. She’s worked in pre-hospital care, retail and publishing. Her writing companions are her adorable and slightly spoiled Shih-Tzus, Susie, and Billy.

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The Empty Kayak by Jodé Millman

The Empty Kayak by Jodé Millman Banner


The Empty Kayak by Jodé Millman

For Detective Ebony Jones, crime is always personal. But this time, it strikes too close to home.

A pop-up thunderstorm marched its way across the Hudson River, ambushing a young couple’s kayaking trip. The woman miraculously made it back to shore, but her fiancé remains missing. Ebony and her partner are the first responders who rush to the river to assist in rescuing the capsized boater.

The victim’s identity shocks Ebony to the core. Kyle Emory, the ex-boyfriend of her estranged best friend, attorney Jessie Martin, is the man who never made it out of the water. The accident ignites a firestorm between the two friends, pitting them against each other in a race to discover whether Kyle survived or whether he met his untimely demise. Under pressure from the chief and the DA, Ebony needs to solve the mystery, while Jessie seeks justice for the sake of the daughter she shares with Kyle.

The investigation leads them through the dark worlds of social media, online sports betting, and extreme sports. Along the way, they uncover lies and betrayals, and gather a list of dangerous suspects who are all linked to the accident survivor, Kyle’s mysterious fiancée. Even more, the discovery that Kyle possessed his own life-shattering secrets has trapped Ebony between her career and her lifelong friendship with Jessie. Yet neither Ebony nor Jessie will stop until they unearth the truth. Even if it destroys their friendship and their lives.

But the evidence is as murky as the secretive Hudson River. Only the river knows whether Kyle’s untimely death was an accident, a suicide, or murder.

Praise for The Empty Kayak:

"Three strong women follow their own inexorable paths to justice in THE EMPTY KAYAK, and it's a pleasure to cheer them on. THE EMPTY KAYAK is not only a compelling and believable mystery, but a sharply drawn portrait of women's friendships"
Joseph Finder, New York Times bestselling author of House on Fire

"Twisty personal relationships build to a satisfying, stunner finale in The Empty Kayak."
~ Lisa Black, NYT/ bestselling author of the Locard Institute series

Book Details:

Genre: Crime Fiction, Mystery, Suspense
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: May 2023
Number of Pages: 400
ISBN: 9781685122874 (ISBN10: 1685122876)
Series: Queen City Crimes Series, Book 3
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

Detective Ebony Jones felt as though she was toting around a thousand-pound weight, which grew heavier and more torturous with each step. Her cargo, a petite one-year-old, nestled her dark curly head against Ebony’s shoulder and wriggled on Ebony’s bum left hip, the one with the .38 caliber bullet fragments lodged in it. Even the slightest pressure from the child’s body sent relentless jolts of electricity sizzling down her leg. Between the squirmy kid and the merciless pain, Ebony’s trek up the sidewalk was a living hell. And the situation was about to get worse. Much, much worse.

The toddler’s green eyes locked onto Ebony’s, so trusting and innocent that they tugged at her jaded cop’s heartstrings. Lily Martin’s face was muddy, her fuzzy pink hoodie was soaked from the sudden rainstorm, and she was missing one sneaker. But it wasn’t Lily’s bedraggled condition that made their journey up the front walk so unbearable; it was the heartbreak that would follow after Ebony rang the doorbell. And Lily’s mother answered.

The Tudor-style City of Poughkeepsie home belonged to Jessie Martin, Lily’s mom, and Ebony’s on-again, off-again best friend. Since kindergarten, over twenty-five years ago, the two women had been BFFs, but once they pursued conflicting careers in the law, Ebony as a cop and Jessie as a criminal defense attorney, their relationship had deteriorated. Around every corner, clients, cases, and the legal system had thrust obstacles in their path, testing their friendship. Sometimes, Ebony wanted to pack it in and move on, but deep in her heart, she yearned to reconcile with Jessie. The present catastrophe wasn’t going to help that cause.

* * *

On her trip to Jessie’s, Ebony had stewed over the appropriate way to tell Jessie that her ex, Lily’s father, Kyle, was missing? There would be so many questions—how, when, where, why. How could Ebony explain the outcome of Kyle’s disappearance when she didn’t know for sure whether he’d survived the freak accident?

Ebony limped up Jessie’s bluestone path, laden with a cauldron of emotions. Sorrow. Guilt. Anger. Disbelief. Fear. And reluctance, to name a few. She still couldn’t swallow the reality. Kyle Emory was missing and if she was honest, presumed dead.

Midway down the walk, Ebony glanced over her shoulder at Zander, who had remained curbside with their unmarked black Explorer. He was tall and slender, and leaned against the hood of the car. Zander’s brows were drawn together, and he watched her with hawk-like precision. As partners, they were supposed to deliver death notifications in pairs, but he’d made no move to join her on the threshold.

Chicken, she thought. Or was he being uncharacteristically empathetic, given her close relationship with the victim’s former partner?

Delivering the news of a loved one’s death—or possible death—was the most onerous part of her job, and fortunately, she’d never discharged this duty before. Why did the first time have to be Jessie? This was going to be a day, a moment, that would be branded into Jessie’s heart and mind forever.

The need to perform the death notification properly, professionally, prompted Ebony to ask herself how she’d prefer this horrific news disclosed to her.

It wasn’t as if she was notifying a stranger. She knew Jessie as intimately as she knew her own kid sister, Carly. And similar to her arguments with Carly, they’d always forgiven each other eventually. Ebony only hoped being the messenger of a suspected death didn’t permanently sever their already fragile bond.

But Jessie was a lawyer; a smart, strong, and fierce criminal defense attorney. She’d understand. She’d want honesty. No bullshit.

Straight but gentle, Ebony reminded herself as she scaled the porch stairs, clasping Lily to her side. Upon reaching the landing, she exhaled a deep breath, pressed the doorbell, and waited.

An eternity passed before Jessie answered the door. Jessie’s eyes flitted from Ebony to Lily. Jessie’s broad smile vanished as a ripple of worry lines surfaced on her forehead, and her ears flushed pink. Hal Samuels, Jessie’s fiancé, stood behind her, looking equally surprised. They were dressed for early autumn hiking with scuffed tan boots, plaid flannel shirts, and faded jeans. They radiated happiness. Every time Ebony saw Hal and Jessie together, she was reminded that a homicide investigation had reunited them and that new beginnings could grow from despair.

“Eb, what are you doing here? How did you get Lily? Is she okay?” Jessie craned her neck to peek past Ebony’s shoulder toward the street. “What’s going on? Where’s Kyle?”

Ebony cleared her throat. “Jessie, we have a situation.”

Hal dipped his head in recognition. The former District Attorney, and now Dutchess County Court Judge, seemed to acknowledge her gravitas and cupped his hands on Jessie’s shoulders as if propping her up in anticipation of an imminent disaster.

Jessie’s mossy green eyes burned into hers, and she snatched Lily away from Ebony as though protecting her child from a mistress of evil.

“What do you mean? A situation? Tell me what happened to Lily. Is she hurt?” Jessie peeled off Lily’s wet hoodie, socks, and muddy sneaker, and ran her trembling hands over her daughter’s plump body, checking for bumps, bruises, and cuts. Finding none, she continued, “Has Kyle been in a car accident? Where is he? Is he okay?” As expected, the questions tumbled out, heavy with worry.

Despite the pain in her leg, there had been something comforting about having the baby’s legs locked around her waist and the soft body cuddled against her. The warmth. The maternal stirrings. The irresistible scent of baby shampoo. The sudden emptiness in Ebony’s arms only exacerbated the burden of her visit and reminded her that the worst was yet to come.

Ebony’s entire vocabulary lodged in the back of her throat like a fishbone. Her mind analyzed the techniques for being sensitive, caring, and supportive, as protocol and friendship required. She stood frozen in time and space, cognizant that the truth would make the tragedy real for the both of them.

“Ebony, please come in,” Hal said, guiding Jessie across the foyer. “Take a seat in the living room.”

She followed them into the living room, where vibrant flowered sheets blanketed the sofa and chairs, protecting them from tiny, sticky hands. Ebony recalled that almost four months ago, she and Zander had barged into this room, attempting to pressure Jessie’s client into testifying in what had proven to be a landmark serial killer case. But Jessie had obstructed them, her customary modus operandi when dealing with the police.

The same floral sheets billowed as Ebony occupied an armchair that faced Jessie, who had Lily nestled in her lap upon the couch. Hal settled in beside them and leaned forward with his hands clasped and his elbows resting on his knees.

Ebony coughed at the dust motes floating in the air and cleared her throat. Straight but gentle. “Jessie, I have some bad news.” She sucked in a long breath and exhaled slowly to prepare herself. “We believe Kyle may have drowned in a kayaking accident this morning on the Hudson River. We haven’t found him, but we’re out looking for him. I’m so sorry.”

Jessie’s eyebrows shot up as she absorbed the words. What? Her dilated pupils seemed to demand.

“Jessie, did you hear me? Kyle disappeared this morning.”

“What do you mean, you believe he’s missing? Don’t you know if he’s dead or alive?” Jessie’s face flushed and her grip on Lily tightened. “Kyle had Lily with him. How could he have been kayaking? Who was watching Lily?” Jessie’s voice increased in pitch until it was a squeak.

Hal slid close to Jessie and slipped his arm around her shoulders, shoring her up against the blow. “Let’s take it step by step, Jess. You must be in shock. Ebony, can you please start at the beginning? I’m sure that will answer some of our questions.”

“Before I get into the details, do you want me to call your mom and dad? They can help with Lily while I fill you in. I can send Zander over to retrieve them.”

Jessie balked at the suggestion and clutched the fidgety baby tightly to her breast. Hal tilted his head backward and jutted his chin toward the door, signaling his consent.

Taking the hint, Ebony shot off a text to Zander. Please pick up Ed and Lena Martin and bring them here. She gave him their address, and he texted back. 10-4. On the way.

Although she owed Jessie an explanation, she wanted to delay getting into the details until Ed and Lena arrived to take care of Lily. The poor tot had been through enough at the scene.

“When did you last see Kyle?” Ebony asked.

“This morning. He came by around nine to pick up Lily. It was his Saturday with her.”

“Did he mention where he was headed?”

“No. I didn’t ask. We’re supposed to sign the custody papers this week, and since we were getting along, I figured I’d cut him some slack.” Jessie paused. “I’m working on my trust issues with him.”

“So, he didn’t tell you he was going kayaking at Kaal Rock?”

“No. He was there by himself? He had Lily with him?” A sense of disbelief colored her voice.

“Did he indicate he was meeting... friends?” Ebony asked. She needed to proceed step-by-step. Straight but gentle.

“No, what friends?”

“Does the name Olivia Vargas mean anything to you?” Ebony kept her tone calm, although her stomach clenched into a knot.

“Ebony, you’re scaring me. Who is this person, and what is happening?”

“Apparently, Kyle was engaged to Olivia. They became engaged three weeks ago on Labor Day. They were supposed to be getting married on Valentine’s Day next year.”

“What the hell? You’re telling me Kyle’s missing, and he was engaged?” Jessie shouted. Lily startled and bawled as though she understood the significance of Ebony’s announcement. Jessie rose and paced across the living room carpet, shushing her daughter and planting kisses on her curly head. “It’s okay, Lilybean. Hush, hush.”

Hal narrowed his eyes and made a time-out sign. “You’re asking a lot of questions and not revealing any facts about what happened to Emory.” He paused. “Stop beating around the bush and start at the beginning like I asked.” Hal’s demeanor had pivoted from being a supportive partner into a cool and controlled prosecutor ready to cross-examine an adverse witness. “What does this Vargas woman have to do with the kayak? And Kyle’s disappearance?”

“I’ll explain after the Martin’s arrive,” Ebony said.

As they waited, an uncomfortable silence filled the room. Ebony shifted in her chair as the hinge of the front door squeaked, followed by the shuffling of feet. Jessie’s parents, Lena and Ed Martin, accompanied Zander into the living room, and Jessie’s anxious expression greeted them. Then, in one swift movement, Hal gently pried Lily from Jessie’s embrace and deposited the toddler into her grandmother’s waiting arms. Ed opened his mouth to speak, but Hal interrupted him by whispering into his ear. Ed sighed and disappeared with Lena and their granddaughter in tow.

With the arrival of Jessie’s parents, Ebony could quit procrastinating and get down to business.

Zander perched on the arm of Ebony’s chair and crossed his arms over his chest.

“Okay. Here’s what we know,” Ebony said.


Excerpt from The Empty Kayak by Jodé Millman. Copyright 2023 by Jodé Millman. Reproduced with permission from Jodé Millman. All rights reserved.



Author Bio:

Jodé Millman

Jodé Millman is the acclaimed author of HOOKER AVENUE and THE MIDNIGHT CALL, which won the Independent Press, American Fiction, and Independent Publisher Bronze IPPY Awards for Legal Thriller. She’s an attorney, a reviewer for, the host/producer of The Backstage with the Bardavon podcast, and creator of The Writer’s Law. Jodé lives with her family in the Hudson Valley, where she is at work on the next installment of her “Queen City Crimes” series —novels inspired by true crimes in the region she calls home.

Catch Up With Jodé Millman:
BookBub - @JodeMillmanAuthor
Instagram - @jodewrites
Twitter - @worldseats


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Paint Me A Crime by Holly Yew

About the Book

Art curator Jessamine Rhodes has left behind her gig at a prominent gallery in the city to open her own community art center in the small town of Rose Shore. She’s all set to host an extravagant opening watercolors class and has even booked a famous artist to teach it. Gabriella Everhart brings along her priceless painting Tranquil to showcase as the centerpiece of the event.

The opening class is just wrapping up when suddenly Tranquil disappears before Jessamine’s eyes. Next, the lights of the art center flicker out and leave the crowd in complete darkness as a scream pierces the air. To her horror, Jessamine’s flashlight reveals that prestigious art collector Victor Carlisle has been murdered, and now her dreams are as shattered as the champagne glass found near the scene.

Determined to save her now teetering reputation, Jessamine sets out to search for answers and the missing painting on her own. She has invested everything into her art center and is too anxious to step back and do nothing. Along the way, she teams up with a handsome paramedic who seems to have his own reasons for wanting justice for Victor’s tragedy.

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After Madeleine left, partly closing the doors behind her, Jessamine took her time wandering around the room. One wall was completely covered in blackout blinds to keep out the natural light, and Jessamine noticed how each piece of artwork had its own spotlight, just like in a museum or professional art gallery. The other three sides of the long and narrow room were covered in paintings, each with an engraved plaque underneath stating the title of the painting, along with the name of the artist. The center of the floor was covered in a cushy area rug with four armchairs and two side tables. The whole setup was very professional. She recognized most of the artists and made some quick notes in her journal to look up the others.

She was completely lost in her own little art world when the gallery doors closed with a click.

“Madeleine? Are you there?”

Jessamine walked over to the doors and pulled at the handles. They wouldn’t turn. She was locked inside.

She knocked on the door. “Hello? I’m locked in here.”

She couldn’t hear anything on the other side of the doors and, even though her gut told her something was wrong, she tried to remain calm and think of a logical reason for the locked doors. Her panic didn’t subside for long as another sense flared alive, and her heart started pounding. She knew what was happening even before the high-pitched alarm went off.

She could smell it.


Jessamine started banging on the doors even louder. “Help! I’m trapped in here!”

No answer. She took out her phone and dialed 911 and told the operator what was happening before she searched for another way out. The blackout blinds were all electronic, and once she found the switch to pull them up, they seemed to take forever to rise. Her impatience with the whirring sound grew worse as it was becoming more and more difficult to breathe. Jessamine held up her arm in front of her mouth to block out the smoke that started to seep into the gallery through the cracks in the double doors.

When the blinds were finally up, she let out a strangled sob when she realized that none of the windows could actually open. Hurrying to the other side of the room, she searched for another way out, but there was only a large bookshelf at that end. Her only option now was to break one of the windows. She looked around on the bookshelf for something heavy enough to do the job and read the spine of the thickest book she could find. The Complete Collection of Jules Verne: Volume One sat perched in the middle of the highest shelf.

Jessamine said a quick apology to the beautifully bound book as she stood on her tiptoes to reach it.

It took a moment for her to realize what was happening next. A few seconds after Jessamine picked up the book, she stumbled forward into a black hole. Her senses were completely off balance as she stood and tried to make sense of what had happened. The bookshelf had shifted sideways, and she was now in another room.

“Of course, Victor would be eccentric enough to have a secret passage in his house. What a cliché,” Jessamine said out loud to the empty space. She fumbled around for a light switch and blinked as brightness filled the room. It looked to be a home office with the double-sided bookshelf serving as the door. No wait, there’s another door. Jessamine tried the door on the other side of the room. Also locked and her loud knocking again went unanswered.

She went back into the art gallery to make another desperate attempt at finding a way out. Dark smoke swirled around the ceiling of the gallery, heading toward the bookshelf passageway she had just stepped back through.

Suddenly, a loud crash came from the office behind her.

About the Author

After having called many places around the world home, Holly Yew has settled in the Okanagan, BC with her husband, son, and two rescue dogs. When she’s not writing or reading, she’s playing the piano, watching Star Wars, or enjoying a Dole Whip in Disneyland.

Holly is a member of Sisters in Crime and International Thriller Writers. She loves connecting with other writers and bookworms on social media, and you can find her at

Website ~~ Facebook ~~ Instagram ~~ Twitter ~ Newsletter

The Taste of Rain by Barbara Howard

About the Book

College student and part-time health aide, Amira Connors, wants nothing more than to graduate and successfully launch a non-profit with her latest crush, Attorney Darius Browne. But when a nursing home patient (Claire Stewart) shares shocking details surrounding her husband’s death, Amira pieces together the fractured memories and helps law enforcement identify the actual killer. But is he? Or have Claire’s ramblings entangled Amira into becoming the next target?

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Amira maneuvered the Jaguar off the last stretch of the interstate before reaching the Brookside exit, the fading sunlight casting long shadows across the road, and parked along a grassy knoll. The rest stop seemed like an oasis in the quiet twilight, offering a temporary respite from her troubled thoughts. She approached a small lemonade stand by the road.

Around her, fellow travelers bustled about, their activities casting long shadows in the fading daylight. Some hurriedly made their way to the restrooms, while others tended to their restless dogs or disposed of fast-food remnants. Amira decided to take a momentary break from her journey, seeking solace in the routine tasks of organizing her life.

Resting at one of the nearby tables, she pulled out her planner and sifted through a stack of mail, determined to regain control amidst the chaos. With furrowed brows, she meticulously reviewed her budget, making note of impending deadlines and the feasibility of timely payments. The weight of responsibility settled upon her shoulders as she marked what could and could not be handled in time.

As the sun sank behind a grove of cedar trees, a blanket of fog began to creep along the ground, shrouding the rest stop in an ethereal haze. The young entrepreneurs who had been running the lemonade stand gathered their supplies, while parents dutifully folded down tables and stacked chairs into their van. Amira bid them goodnight with a weary smile, her mind preoccupied with a nagging sense of urgency, and returned to the car.

Feeling the weight of unanswered questions pressing upon her, Amira reached for a notepad and pen, determined to unravel the threads of mystery that had entangled her life. She needed a plan. Frustrated, she attempted to diagram what little she knew so far, hoping that a missing piece would emerge and bring clarity to the enigma.

The strain of the situation with Claire weighed heavily on her, and she rubbed her tired eyes, attempting to refocus her thoughts. Sensing the need for fresh air, she rolled down the car windows, allowing the cool, damp night to invade the confined space, its misty grasp obscuring her view. Pushing aside the scattered papers, Amira stepped out of the car, intending to clear her mind.

In the midst of the fog, she noticed a familiar sight—the same SUV from Dupont Ave parked across from her. A jolt of recognition sparked within her, and instinctively, she grabbed her phone, capturing a quick snapshot of the license plate. The image secured, she hurried back to the shelter of her car, and hastily crafted an email to Harper, requesting information about the owner.

As she pressed the send button, a figure in uniform materialized by her car, a police officer casting a watchful eye over the Jaguar. Amira's pulse quickened, her palms growing clammy with unease. The officer approached the driver's side door, his stern gaze fixed upon her.

"License and registration, Miss," he demanded, his tone betraying a suspicion that hung heavy in the air.

Confusion mingled with fear as Amira questioned the reason for this sudden intrusion. "Why? What have I done? I'm just sitting here," she protested, her voice tinged with apprehension.

His gaze unwavering, the officer's words cut through the tense atmosphere. "This car has been reported stolen."

“No, that’s impossible.”

“Step out of the car.” Another voice from the passenger side.

“Okay, one sec while I get that for you. I have it right here.” Amira twisted the key and dropped it into gear. The car jolted forward, tires screeching against the asphalt as her foot pressed down on the accelerator, her body pressed firmly against the seat, melding with the raw power of the machine. She gripped the steering wheel tightly, her heart pounding in her chest as she glanced nervously in the rearview mirror. The flashing lights of the police car behind her illuminated the darkness, casting an eerie red and blue glow on the road ahead.

She had never been in this situation before; never thought she would be the one fleeing from the law enforcement like a scene in a movie. But here she was, racing down the highway with the sound of the police sirens blaring in her ears.

She had no choice. It was either this or face the litany of questions. She knew she had done nothing wrong, but she had been lured into helping Claire, and now she was paying the price.


About the Author

Barbara Howard is a mystery and YA author of over a dozen books, including the trilogy, Finding Home Mystery Series; Final Harvest, Charlotte's Revenge, and Milo's Journey. She is a first generation tech geek turned master gardener. She returned to her Midwestern hometown after an extensive career as a Department of Defense Project Manager at the Pentagon and spends most of her time treasure hunting, spoiling her fur-babies, growing veggies, and plotting whodunits.

She has also published a collection of books on food-related topics, food safety, and heirloom recipe cookbooks under the pen name, Arlene Lee.

Memberships/Affiliations: Mystery Writers of America (MWA), Sisters in Crime (SinC), Great Lakes Fiction Writers (GLFW), Crime Writers of Color (CWoC), Gamma Xi Phi (GXP)

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Hotshot Shamus (The Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries) by Heather Haven

About the Book

Persephone (Percy) Cole saves the life of a senator’s granddaughter but had no idea how much her own life was going to change as a result. There’s the unwanted fame, reporters hounding her mercilessly, and past enemies crawling out of the woodwork. Worse yet, our 5’11” lady shamus now has to dress the part of the successful PI! Then an unknown murderer tries to frame Percy for his killing spree, leaving deadly clues pointing to her. Worse yet, these are followed by death threats against her and her family.

But who? And why?

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“Persephone,” Pop called out. “You got your name in the paper again. Might mean something.”

Percy Cole turned in her chair and faced her father, sitting behind his rolltop desk. He in turn, had pivoted in his chair to face her.

He may have been dressed in a blue work shirt and plain cotton slacks but everything on him was freshly pressed. She glanced down at her own khaki shirt and trousers, wrinkled but comfy. They had never seen an iron and probably never would.

Her sharp, green eyes continued to stare at Pop. Or rather, the newspaper held in front of his face, so close she could almost reach out and touch it. It was just another reminder of the ongoing problem of Cole Investigations outgrowing its space. The business already took up half the parlor, and it still wasn’t enough.

But on the bright side, it did mean Percy could read Pop’s newspaper from where she sat. The date, Monday, April 26, 1943, jumped out at her, along with the front-page headlines, “Easter Riots Break Out in Sweden” and “More Boys Deployed to Europe!”

Two neighborhood boys were already missing in action, another wounded. That didn’t count Pearl Harbor. Even Rendell, their assistant, had been sent back from the front lines after losing his right hand.

“So, Pop,” she said, picking up where they’d left off, “talk to me. What’s my name doing in the New York Sun? Did I win the lottery or something?”

But her father was quiet.

“Pop?” Still no response.

“Answer me, Pop. Pretty please with sugar on top.” She was in the throes of teaching her eight-year-old son, Oliver, that you can make all the demands you want, but to use the word ‘please’.

Pop shook the paper, folded it in half and then into a quarter. He gave his eldest daughter a smile. “It’s nothing, Persephone. I should have read it through first. Not worth mentioning.”

“But let’s mention it. What’s up?”

Her father still said nothing but let out a sigh. He reached across the short distance between them and handed the newspaper to Percy.

“Page fifteen, second column, the personals.”

Percy took the paper and went to the page as instructed. Finding the piece, she read aloud:

“Persephone Cole, Hotshot Investigator. Investigate this: Wilma Markovich: fifty-eight years old. Widow.”

Percy finished the brief ad, then looked into her father’s eyes. The blue of his shirt matched them exactly. “What’s this?”

“Just foolishness, Persephone. After that piece about you finding the senator’s granddaughter was in the papers, crackpots are coming out of the woodwork. Pay it no mind. That’s the price of being a celebrity,” he said. His words were smooth, but his sixty-four-year-old face had worry lines added to the ones time already put there.

“It was one crummy article, Pop.”

“Front page of every newspaper in the country for days on end,” he emphasized.

“The most important thing was the senator’s grandkid was safe.”

“And you’ve made some enemies in your time, child,” he went on, as if she hadn’t spoken. "Now their attention is drawn to you.”

Before her father could say more, the phone rang. Lately, over half the callers were reporters trying for a story on the “little lady” detective who captured three villains and rescued a nine-year-old child. She didn’t talk to any of them.

But Rendell, who usually fielded incoming calls, was out trailing a battered wife’s husband. The wife was a friend of Percy’s kid sister, Pop’s younger daughter, Sera. Not the sort of work either Percy or her father wanted to take on, but Sera begged until they gave in. Percy reached over and answered the phone.

“Cole Investigations, Percy Cole speaking.”

“Hey, Perce, it’s Ken.”

She and Homicide Detective Kenneth Hutchers had been “stepping out” for some time, and she no longer addressed him by his surname. But he still called her by the one-syllable nickname of Perce, as if saying the name Persephone or even Percy was too much effort.

“Haven’t heard from you in a while,” she said. “It’s barely nine a.m. What are you up to?”

“Up to my neck in murder, and understand you knew the victim.”

“Oh yeah? Who?”

“Wilma Markovich. Beat over the head with a tire iron in her midtown apartment. We got an anonymous tip about her...and you,” he added.

Shocked at hearing the name right after reading it in the newspaper, Percy tried to buy time while she collected her thoughts. “What makes you think I know this Wilma Markovich?”

Half listening to the conversation, Pop’s head snapped in Percy’s direction at the mention of the woman’s name. He said nothing.

“Come on, Perce,” Ken said. “You’ve been sent a love letter about her in the personals of the Sun. Just this morning.”

Percy glanced at the newspaper. “Doesn’t mean I know her.”

“Doesn’t mean you don’t, neither. I figure she was one of your clients. You got quite a few these days.”

“Not so many where I don’t know the names. There’s no Wilma Markovich.”

But the detective was insistent. “This caller says he heard two people arguing behind an apartment wall.”

“What apartment wall?” Percy demanded.

“The wall of her fancy-schmancy apartment in Murray Hill.” His annoyance at her asking the question radiated through the phone wires. “Then he says he saw a big, redheaded woman wearing a man’s fedora run out the door and down the stoop. Sound like someone we know?”

“They got stoops in Murray Hill? I thought they were too fancy for that. Front porches, maybe. But I don’t remember seeing any.”

The detective ignored her comment. ”Doorman says so, too.”

“Doormen say anything they’re paid to say. Who’s the caller?”

“Didn’t give his name. Says he doesn’t live there but was delivering magazines to the building when he saw and heard all this. But didn’t want to get involved.”

 “Doesn’t sound on the up-and-up to me. You trying to pull a fast one, Detective? Need someone to pin this on?”

“Don’t be like that, Perce. When it comes to our jobs, you know we go our separate ways. I work for the city; you work for the client. Now, you acquainted with the lady or not?”

“I’m telling you, no. Sounds like a setup. You don‘t even have an eyewitness. Just some voice on the phone who doesn’t give a name and a doorman who probably got handed a fin. Regardless, it wasn’t me.”

“I got to check this out, Perce.”

“Then come down and check the files, if you don’t believe me.”

“Persephone,” Pop said, after clearing his throat.

Percy looked at her father. Something in his face told her to pay attention.

“Hold on a sec,” she said into the phone, then dropped the receiver to her shoulder, covering the mouthpiece. “What’s up, Pop?”

“I knew that name sounded familiar when I read the ad.”

“Wilma Markovich?”

“Yeah. She sent us a letter a couple of days ago.”

“What did she want?”

“Can’t remember. It’s in the inbox. I didn’t get a chance to talk to you about it yet. You hardly been in the office.”

Percy raised the phone to her mouth. “You want to go through my files, Detective Hutchers? Get a search warrant.”

Guest Post

Heather Haven on Percy Cole

Bear with me if I've said this before, but The Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries were born out of a challenge by my then editor to write a protagonist who looked and acted more like a real person, not a model. Could I do it? Did I even want to? Did I want a heroine who wasn't typical of many a detective story? After I thought about it, the answer was yes! I wanted to write about a smart woman who wasn’t Mad Men classically feminine. And of course, I wanted it all. She should like herself and be comfortable in her own skin.

So along came Persephone (Percy) Cole. Percy is 35 years old, considered middle-aged by '40s standards. She's also a single mother, overweight, and at 5'11" is extremely tall. When she tells people what she does, it usually raises a few eyebrows. Not too many women have her job. In fact, she’s the only one that she knows of. Percy once heard of a woman detective in Wyoming, but it wound up the lady in question was the sheriff’s wife. She did more laundry than detecting. If she was lucky, he let her file. Nothing our Percy would put up with.

That’s what makes Percy Cole a winner! As Winston Churchill said, "Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference." And Percy has attitude up the wazoo. She exudes self-confidence. She's smart and savvy. She's a no s--t lady. I just love her. And she’s taken to the gumshoe life completely, down to wearing her father’s fedora and customized men’s suits.

As for me, her creator, they say you don't know what you're writing until you've written it. Well, little did I know that by making Percy as large if not larger than many men of that era, she was able to compete in a man’s world in every way, including physical intimidation, a very pseudo '40s-PI-Noir thing. Percy doesn’t use physical threats all the time, but she’s not above it. Her grabbing some lowlife by the scruff of the neck and hauling him off to jail is just plain fun to write about. And readers seem to like her fearlessness, her sense of self, of not compromising, which is all done with humor, style, and a touch of whimsy.

Yes, Percy’s tough to the core, but I do try to show a bit of softness through her dealings with her mother, father, kid sister, and in particular, in the raising of her eight-year-old son, Oliver, the child that gives her life meaning. Frankly, it is a rare woman who does not deal with family and family matters, no matter how tough they are. Even Wonder Woman (see linked article). Of course, Wonder Woman is a real hottie. But Percy has her moments; she has her moments. There are men who fall for this redheaded broad with her wicked sense of humor, who knows how to make her way in the world. All very enticing. All very Percy Cole.

About the Author

Back in the Punic Wars, Heather wrote ad copy, comedy acts, and had several plays performed very Off-Broadway. Her novels include the Silicon Valley-based Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, Manhattan-based Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries, Love Can Be Murder Mysteries, Snow Lake Romantic Suspense, and standalone, Murder under the Big Top, inspired by her mother’s stint as a performer with Ringling Brothers’ Circus. Just to break up the monotony, her short stories are featured in here anthology, Corliss and Other Award-Winning Stories. She and her husband are allowed to live in the foothills of San Jose, California, with their cat, Ellie.

Webpage ~~ Blog ~~ Facebook ~~ Goodreads



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