Someone Rotten Riding the Rails by Kris Bock

About the Book

Kate Tessler and her crew of misfits set out to blow the whistle on two feuding crime families . . .

Former war correspondent Kate Tessler has solved multiple murders since returning to her Arizona hometown, to the grudging appreciation of the local police. Now Detective Padilla and the FBI approach Kate with a proposal. Two Russian crime families have rented a private historic train to the Grand Canyon for their children’s wedding. The route is scenic and remote. No cell phones. The FBI needs to surveil, but anyone infiltrating the train must be above suspicion.

Kate poses as herself, sent by the newspaper to cover the society wedding, while her sister Jen is the photographer. Their multi-generational and eccentric crew pose as train staff. The goal is to observe, but that quickly derails when the groom disappears, and a search for him turns up a dead body. Everyone’s a suspect and trapped on the train.

The mob families won’t contact the police, so it’s up to Kate and friends to uncover the truth before their whole mission goes off the tracks.

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“You look like you’re having second thoughts,” I said.

Detective Padilla scanned the group sitting in my living room. Actually, she looked queasy, which could have to do with the amount of sugar in the peanut butter cup cupcake Joe had pressed on her, but was more likely a reaction to Arnold and Clarence “reporting for duty!”

I couldn’t blame her. I’d come to terms with my father’s meddling friends, but it was a process. Joe’s baked bribes helped, but not as much as the margaritas that were the specialty of his wife, Marty. Their treats might not help with my blood sugar levels—annoyingly, something I had to pay more attention to now that I’d hit fifty—but they did make it easier to go with the flow, or in the case of this group, the rushing torrent.

Dad and his friends, the "Coffee Shop Irregulars," embraced the mantra Seize The Day with an enthusiasm I hadn’t seen in thirty years as an international journalist. You might assume reporting on wars and natural disasters would be the dangerous part of my life, but moving back home to Arizona after a bomb tore up my leg hadn’t exactly resulted in a peaceful retirement. Arnold and Clarence gave a new meaning to “natural disaster.”

Still, they’d been loyal friends and had helped me investigate crimes, wanting nothing more than the knowledge that they’d done some good.

Ha, just kidding. They wanted excitement, adventure, and the adrenaline rush of danger. They might be in their seventies and eighties, but they were more likely to play strip poker than bridge and they’d only sit in the park feeding pigeons if it was part of a stakeout. Even then they’d probably try to train the pigeons as evil minions, or at least questionably moral ones.

Detective Yaquelin Padilla knew more about the trouble we’d gotten into than most people. She’d shown herself willing to overlook our shenanigans, since we got results. But this time she’d initiated the meeting. She must really be desperate.

“Let’s start with the basics,” Padilla said. “You’ll be on a train where a wedding is taking place. The bride and groom come from two organized crime families.”

Arnold sat up straighter. “Star-crossed lovers, like Romeo and Juliet?”

“Not really,” Padilla said. “More likely the families approved the marriage and might even have arranged it to join the families. Like feudal lords contracting a marriage to form an alliance and expand their reach.”

Arnold sagged back. “Star-crossed is more romantic.”

“You said on a train?” Joe asked. “Organized crime families can’t find someplace fancier than Amtrak for a wedding?”

“It’s a scenic railway,” Padilla explained. “The train goes from Williams to the Grand Canyon. Normally people buy individual tickets, but the railroad also allows groups to rent an entire train for special events.”

Clarence flashed a look up at Arnold. “That part actually sounds romantic.”

“Also hard to infiltrate,” Padilla said. “The guest list is tightly controlled. They’ll have security checking the train for unexpected passengers and scanning for spy cameras or recording devices. Once the train is moving, no one can sneak on it.”

I was starting to understand. “The FBI wants some undercover agents there. Why us?”

Padilla grimaced. “For one thing, the budget. The higher-ups don’t want to allocate enough people to do the job right. They don’t know for sure that anything is going to happen except a wedding, so it’s hard to make a case for the staffing.”

“Why does Sweet think otherwise?” I asked.

“You know how suspicious we get.” Padilla had a wry smile. “One reason is that the wedding was planned very quickly. The railway got the request a month ago for the first available date, which is about a month from now. So maybe it’s cover for something else. Another reason for using your gang is that Sweet doesn’t want to risk the wrong people hearing about the plan.”

“Oh, like those corrupt police officers we found on the last job,” Clarence said.

Padilla’s jaw tightened, but she ignored the comment. “And finally, the families’ bodyguards will be looking for anyone who gives off a whiff of law enforcement. We need regular people. People who would never be suspected as undercover agents.”

Arnold crossed his arms. “I think I’m a little offended by that.”

“Everyone knows you could act like an undercover agent,” Clarence said. “You just have to act the opposite for this.”

“It makes sense,” I said. “Arnold, if they look up your history, they’re going to see a retired gynecologist who does community theater. You’ve never been involved in law enforcement.” He’d helped solve some crimes in the last year, but that was less law enforcement and more chaos detonation.

“Okay, I guess I can act innocent,” Arnold said.

Dad snorted. “It's definitely an act.”

About the Author

Kris Bock writes novels of mystery, suspense, and romance, many with outdoor adventures and Southwestern landscapes. She has lived in ten states and one foreign country but is now firmly planted in the Southwest, where many of her books are set. Her romantic suspense novels include stories of treasure hunting, archaeology, and intrigue. Readers have called these novels "Smart romance with an Indiana Jones feel."

In Kris’s Accidental Detective series, a witty journalist solves mysteries in Arizona and tackles the challenges of turning fifty. The Furrever Friends Sweet Romance series features the employees and customers at a cat cafĂ©. In the Accidental Billionaire Cowboys series, a Texas ranching family wins a fortune in the lottery, which causes as many problems as it solves. Kris also writes a series with her brother, scriptwriter Douglas J Eboch, who wrote the original screenplay for the movie Sweet Home Alabama. The Felony Melanie series follows the crazy antics of Melanie, Jake, and their friends a decade before the events of the movie.

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Recruiting Murder by Frank Lazarus

Can two Sleuths put these two puzzles together before college starts in September?

Recruiting Murder

A Brown & McNeil Murder Mystery Book 3

by Frank Lazarus

Genre: Murder Mystery, Crime Thriller

The third installment in the Brown and McNeil Mystery Series

Lenny Goldstein and his company, Future Stars, evaluate high school and collegiate basketball talent and sell their rankings to colleges and NBA teams.

From its humble beginnings in 1975, Future Stars had grown into a behemoth; with fifteen NBA teams and seventy-eight colleges paying subscriptions for his rankings.

Lenny is semi-retired these days, with his son and son-in-law running the business until he gets a call from an old buddy in Newport News, who wants him to come look at a high school kid, Lincoln Anderson, in Emporia, Virginia. He believes this Anderson kid has been overlooked by everyone, including Future Stars.

Concurrently, Lenny gets a call from an old buddy, the iconic coach of Duke University, to see what he knows about the college decision of Tyler Longenecker, Future Star’s #5 ranked high school senior from a premier prep school in the tony Boston suburbs. 

All seems to be going on script until graduation, when both Lincoln and Tyler are involved in a death and a roofie rape. Suddenly, Lenny’s getting calls about both kids.

Lincoln's family is related to James McNeil in Philly, and they call him for help. James and his buddy, Detective Vernon Brown of the Philly PD, jump into the car and head South on I-95.

Can the two Sleuths from The Murder Gambit and The Phenom put these two puzzles together before college starts in September?

Once again, Author Frank Lazarus has produced a gripping, suspenseful story that will keep you off Netflix for a day or two.

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The Phenom

A Brown & McNeil Murder Mystery Book 2

Even before he has played his first game in high school, it would seem nothing can stop Bo Campbell's meteoric rise to stardom in the basketball world. In Philadelphia, people are already comparing him to his Overbrook High School predecessor, Wilt Chamberlain.

But his dreams are suddenly shattered when he is arrested for the murder of his best friend, Sherman Claxton.

Detective Vernon Brown, and James McNeil, his friend and Bo's grandfather, search for the truth, but James goes rogue, and soon finds himself in the dangerous underbelly of the Philadelphia drug sub-culture, where the stakes are high and it's hard to tell who's friend and who's foe.

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The Murder Gambit

A Brown & McNeil Murder Mystery Book 1 

An unexplained death in a nursing home. A man falls from a balcony. A hit and run in the middle of a city street. An execution in a home. A woman collapses dead after a date.

Five murders. Five methods. Five police jurisdictions.

What's the connection?

Philadelphia-area detectives are under pressure to solve the murders, while dealing with their own issues.

Speeding like the lead car at Talladega towards a shocking conclusion, is The Murder Gambit a Shakespearean tragedy or a sinister reality?

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Frank Lazarus was born and raised in West Philadelphia and attended Overbrook High School, as you may have guessed from his writings.

After graduating high school, Frank spent two years in the U.S. Army during the VietNam War. After his service, he completed his 

Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration at St. Joseph’s University, in Philadelphia.

He was in the Financial Services and Life Insurance industry for fifty-three years before he retired at the end of 2021.

Frank has three adult children and five grandchildren.

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Saturday Quote

This week's Saturday Quote is from Someone Rotten Riding the Rails by Kris Bock available from Tule Publishing on January 30, 2024.

Wild Bolts Electric by Adam Dompierre

About the Book

Suspecting his best days are behind him, Victor Drake runs an out of the way detective agency that provides him with just enough to get by. But when James Chandler comes to him desperately seeking deliverance from a menacing stalker who seems to possess supernatural powers, Drake needs to recapture his mettle to take on the challenge of a lifetime.

Though he initially regards the paranormal elements of the story as preposterous, Drake agrees to the job. A twisting investigation encircles James’ physicist girlfriend Claire Ventura, her mob associate father, and a highly-secretive program with connections to Claire’s university. There, a reluctant source warns Drake to abandon his pursuit or risk provoking the wrath of extraordinary forces.

Overpowered but undaunted, Drake must rally his wits and resilience to discover the secret behind this fearsome adversary. With time and circumstance working against him, can he neutralize the threat before lives are lost?

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“You’re Mike’s referral?”

“Yes, James Chandler,” he said, extending his hand.

“Victor Drake.” He shook his hand quickly. A strong grip, but not overdone. Nothing artificial in the gesture. “Why don’t you tell me all about it.” More directive than question.

Down on the street traffic passed intermittently and the sounds mingled with conversations. Together they combined into a sort of ambient noise that was easy enough to ignore. The heat was another matter. It had only been a short walk from the car, but James became aware of sweat forming on his forehead, and he wiped it away distractedly. Drake’s eyes, tranquil but persistent, hadn’t left him.

James wanted to tell him everything. “Where to start?” 

“The beginning,” Drake said, fishing a pack of cigarettes out of his desk drawer. “Lay the facts out in order and I’ll take it from there.” He made it sound so simple, and maybe it was. Just start talking.

“A man came into the gym where I work,” James began. “This was Saturday.” From there the story flowed easily. Drake broke in with clarifying questions from time to time and in doing so helped James better understand the situation himself, so far as that was possible. He had a long way to go toward making sense of the past several days but the telling of it—all of it, finally—was therapeutic. He lost track of the hour, but by the time he concluded his story the room was getting darker on account of the dying sun.

“…and that brought me here,” he concluded.

Drake nodded, reviewing the calculus in his head. He got up without speaking and clicked on an overhead lamp, bathing the office in a warm glow. He had long since discarded his first cigarette into a nearby ashtray and now he reached for another.

“What is it you’re asking me to do?” he said at last. Still no indication that the story, the facts, had fazed him at all.

“Find this guy, if that’s what he is.”

Drake’s cigarette rested casually between his fingers. “What else would he be?”

“I don’t know,” James said. He couldn’t bring himself to voice the answers that sprung to mind. Monster, supernatural, paranormal… Demon. “Find out what he wants, or not, just… get him out of my life.” It was all he wanted anymore.

Drake nodded. “How?”

“I don’t know.” James’ confidence in him took a hit for the first time. “You’re the P.I., or detective, or whatever. You have to—”

“What I mean,” he broke in calmly, “is where is your line?” 


Drake tried again. “You want him gone, and that’s all?” 

“Yes.” James thought he made that clear.

“Carte blanche then,” he said, and James finally understood his meaning. “Is that right?”

James forced himself to restrain from answering as quickly as he wanted to. It was important he let the weight of the question settle and appreciate the gravity of the answer and its consequences. “Yes,” he said after some thought. “Absolutely.”

Drake took a drag on his cigarette and shook his head. “I’m not sure it adds up. He, It if you like, doesn’t sound physically imposing, hasn’t made any explicit threats. Why am I supposed to buy this being some imminent danger?”

“Easy to ask when you weren’t there.” James felt patronized. “That’s a question coming from a guy with no firsthand experience, safe behind his desk.”

“They all are today, kid. You don’t think you’re overreacting?”

“Maybe I am, but you don’t understand his… presence,” James protested. “You don’t know what it’s like to be next to him, in his gaze, from the start. There’s something horribly wrong here, and I’m not going to sit back and let it destroy my life because I’m afraid of overreacting.”

“Fair enough. I had to be sure.” Drake smiled by way of recognition and James’ trust in the man returned, but now carrying grave undertones. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.” 

“I don’t know how your fee works, or if you have expenses—” 

“It’s not like that.” He waved him off. “Mike’s got you covered. And besides, it gives me something to do. All I need from you is reticence.” A ten-dollar word from the chess player.

“Of course.”

“And leave me that copy of the surveillance video,” Drake added, showing him to the door. “I have work to do.”

About the Author

Adam Dompierre is a mystery author with a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of Michigan and a master's degree in education from Augustana University. He has worked as a secondary English teacher since 2010.Adam lives in northern Michigan with his girlfriend Riley, their dog Pilot, and their cat Max. In his free time, he enjoys playing guitar and tennis, though not simultaneously. Wild Bolts Electric is his first novel.

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Author Diane Kelly

Diane Kelly writes funny mysteries featuring feisty female lead characters and their furry, four-footed sidekicks. Diane is the author of over three dozen novels and novellas, including the Death & Taxes white-collar crime series, the Paw Enforcement K-9 series, the House Flipper cozy mystery series, the Busted female motorcycle cop series, the Southern Homebrew moonshine series, and the Mountain Lodge Mysteries series. When not writing, Diane enjoys walking her dog, playing with her cats, and hiking in the beautiful woods in her home state of North Carolina.

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Guest Post

When and Where

While mystery novels address the questions of who, how, and why, one of the most common questions I get asked as an author addresses the where of the stories. Where do you get your ideas? For me, that’s an easy question to answer. I get them everywhere!

I might see something in real life, such as the female motorcycle cop I saw making a traffic stop on the side of the highway in Fort Worth, Texas. Female police officers are rare enough, but seeing one who also rode a motorcycle fascinated me. She inspired my Busted series, in which each book features a different female motorcycle cop.

Some ideas came from the day job I held before become a full-time writer. In my earlier work as a tax and business advisor, I encountered all types of white-collar crime, including a foreign currency exchange scam that I segued into the plot of my first published novel Death, Taxes, and a French Manicure.

Some ideas come from things I hear about on the news, such as a subplot in one of my books that involved a shady debt collector. I might see an article in a magazine or online that sparks an idea. Other ideas have come from conversations I’ve had with people in general, or with other authors as I try to hone a plot. Some ideas have even developed from conversations I’ve overhead unwittingly, or maybe even intentionally eavesdropped on. 

Of course, these ideas are only the initial inspiration, and the concepts and plots need lots of refining and polishing. That’s where the when comes in. The more intricate details definitely don’t come to me as I’m sitting in front of my computer. Staring at a blank screen is too much pressure! So when do the more intricate details come to me?

Many of my best detailed ideas come to me when I’m driving in my car, especially if I’m on a highway with little traffic and can relax my mind a bit. It’s work on wheels! Rather than taking an airplane, I often drive to events to allow myself those creative road miles. It’s no wonder I’ve put 80,000 miles on my car in just over two years! When I pitched the concept for my book Paw of the Jungle, I told my editor it would involve the theft of animals from a zoo, which escalates from a relatively manageable pair of parrots to an enormous endangered rhino. When I sold the book to my publisher, I had absolutely no idea how I was going to have a rhino rustler get such a huge beast out of the zoo without being seen or triggering an alarm. But I’d given myself a fun creative challenge, which I sorted out when I was on a long drive from north Texas to California. The solution came to me somewhere in the middle of Arizona. The white noise of the miles rolling past relaxed my mind, allowing it to ponder freely, and those long-range desert views helped give me the perspective to plot the devious rhino-kidnapping plan.

When else do ideas come to me? In the bathtub or shower. The shower ideas are often spontaneous, but when I’m stuck on the details of a plot, I’ll fill the tub with hot water and bubble bath and climb in. I close my eyes and submerge my ears under the water to silence any distractions, letting the ideas float around in my head until the perfect idea surfaces. Then it’s time to get out, dry off, and get back to work.

Ideas also come to me when I’m walking my dog. He’s a super sniffer, and we stop approximately every three steps along our walks for a long scenting session. When I’m standing still waiting for him to finish nosing around, my mind tends to continue wandering about and often comes across a fantastic idea for my work in progress. 

Ideas also come to my when I’m doing routine tasks that don’t require concentration, such as washing the dishes or vacuuming. This is less likely, however, as I am not a neatnik and housework is always at the very bottom of my to-do list. My house could best be described as a creative mess. 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this peek inside my process!

Visit Diane's website to learn more about her books.

Death and Taxes (Tara Holloway) Series

Paw Enforcement Series

House Flipper Series

Busted Series

Southern Homebrew Series


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The January Corpse by Neil Albert

The January Corpse by Neil Albert Banner


The January Corpse by Neil Albert

Dave Garrett is a disbarred lawyer eking out a living in Philadelphia as a private eye. At noon on Friday, a law school classmate offers him what looks like a hopeless investigation. Seven years before, a man named Daniel Wilson disappeared. His car was found abandoned with bullet holes and blood, but no body. A hearing is scheduled for Monday on whether Wilson should be declared legally dead. The police have been stumped for seven years. Organized crime warned off the first investigator to look into the case. Over the course of the weekend, the case takes Dave from center city to the coal regions and back, where the story comes to what the critics called "a startling and satisfying conclusion."

Nominated as a Best First Novel by the Private Eye Writers of America when it first appeared in 1990 and the first of a series of twelve.

Praise for The January Corpse:

"Worthy of a Scott Turow . . . This exceptional first mystery is driven by a baffling plot and comes to a surprise ending that passes the Holmesian test."
~ Publishers Weekly

"Tantalizing twisted"
~ The New York Times Book Review

"A first rate first novel."
~ The Boston Globe

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Private Eye
Published by: Onyx
Publication Date: First published January 1990
Number of Pages: 207
ISBN: 9798663201599
Series: Dave Garrett Mystery, #1
Book Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:


FRIDAY, 11:00 A.M.

I couldn’t stand the sight of him but I took his case anyway.

I'd been sitting in the spectator's section of a courtroom in the basement of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. At night the room was used for criminal arraignments, and it showed. Everything in the room was dirty, even the air. I breathed in a mixture of grit, poverty and despair. The bare wooden benches were carved in complex, overlapping swirls of graffiti, initials, gang emblems, and phone numbers. Some people called it street art. I didn't.

To my left, fifteen feet off the ground, a clock was built into the wall. It was missing its hands and most of the brass numerals, and the few that were left were muddy brown. Not that I cared what time it was; as long as I sat there, waiting to testify, my meter was running.

Today the room was being used by the Family Court for a custody case. This was the second day of trial, and the wife's attorney was hoping to get me on the stand today. There's no such thing as a custody case with class. The couple were both doctors, both well respected. Married ten years, two children, both girls, ages four and seven. They had separated two years ago. Each had a condo; his was just south of Society Hill in a newly gentrified neighborhood; hers was on Rittenhouse Square. They both had memberships at the usual country clubs, plus time-shares in Aspen and Jamaica. She drove a BMW and he drove a Benz. It had been amicable at first. Neither one was leaving for someone else; they just didn't like being married to each other anymore. There was no one stirring it up. Most spouses need encouragement from a third party to get really nasty--a new girlfriend, a mother, a friend, or a lawyer. In the absence of someone to stir the pot, it was very civilized. For a while. Then, while working out a property settlement, her lawyer found that her husband had forgotten to disclose his half-interest in a fast-food franchise--a small matter of half a million dollars. In response, she dropped the blockbuster; she moved to terminate his visitation rights because she claimed he was sexually abusing the seven-year-old. He denied it and countered with a suit for attorney's fees and punitive damages. The case had started yesterday, was being tried again today, and would probably go on for a good chunk of the next two weeks.

I had very little to say, but the wife's lawyer wanted me to testify anyway. In a close case, almost anything might make a difference. I'd followed the husband for a week, and the most interesting thing I'd found was that he read Penthouse. Plus, as I was sure his lawyer would point out on cross, Time, Sports Illustrated, Business Week, and The New England Journal of Medicine.

The wife's attorney, sitting at counsel table, turned to me, pointed to his watch, and shook his head. The cross examination of the wife's child psychologist was hopelessly bogged down on the question of her credentials, and they weren't going to reach me that day. The case wasn't on again until the following Wednesday; I was free till then. I nodded, pointed to my own watch to indicate that my meter was off and headed for the door. My overcoat was already over my arm; no one familiar with the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County leaves their property unattended. There used to be a sign outside the Public Defender's office: Watch your hat, ass, and overcoat, till somebody stole it.

The corridor was as filthy as the courtroom, but at least there was light. And people--lots of them. The young and shabbily dressed ones were there for misdemeanor criminal or for family law cases. The felony defendants were usually older and better dressed; they'd learned the hard way that making a good impression just might help. The best dressed of all--except for the big-time drug defendants, who put everyone to shame--were the civil trial attorneys. There was big money in personal injury work and large commercial claims, and a lot of it was worn on their backs. My own suit, when it was new, had looked like theirs; now it was dated and worn, and my tie had a small stain. I was dressed well enough for what I did now.

I was nearly to the exit, feeling blasts of cold air as people went in and out, when I heard him call my name. The voice was raspy and nasal. I turned; it was Mark Louchs, a classmate from law school. He practiced with a small firm out in the suburbs. His hairline had receded since I'd last seen him, and he was wearing new, thicker glasses. His skin was red, probably from a recent Caribbean vacation. He smiled, shook my hand, and said he was so glad to see me. It was all too fast and too hearty, and I wondered what he wanted from me.

“Hello, Mark. Going well for you?"

“God, hearings coming out my ears. Clients calling all hours. Can't get away from it. My accountant--I'm busy as hell--" He stopped himself. “Yeah. Fine. Look, you know how bad I feel about what happened to you. " His voice trailed off. He'd been a jerk when I needed his help and we both knew it. I said nothing, letting the awkward silence go on. Making him uncomfortable was petty, but that didn't stop me from enjoying it. When he was nervous, I noticed, his smile was a little lopsided.

When he was certain that I was going to leave him hanging, he went on. "Look, I hear you're doing investigations now."

“It's the closest thing I can do to keep my hand in. And I sure wasn’t going to hang around as somebody’s research assistant.”

"I tried to reach you first thing this morning. They said you were out. " I hadn’t had time to check my messages, but I just stayed quiet. I liked leaving him under the impression that I was in no hurry to talk to him. Partly because it might give me an advantage in whatever he wanted with me, and partly because it was true.

"Listen, Dave, I'd like you to do me a favor. Are you set up to handle a rush job?"

I do plenty of favors, but not in business. And not for someone who didn't respond to my request for a letter of support when I'd gone before the Disciplinary Board with my license on the line. I kept my voice disinterested and cautious. "How much a favor, and how much a rush?"

“I need you to do an investigation for a case to be heard this coming Monday at one thirty."

I carefully gave a low whistle, watching for his reaction. “That gives me just the rest of today and the weekend. Pretty short notice."

“If you can do it, the fee should be no problem. I'm sure we can agree on an acceptable rate. "

I looked at his suit and at my own. I knew the money would never wind up in a suit. I had too many other bills. But it gave me something to focus on. “Let's go somewhere and hear about it."

We put on our overcoats, cut through the perpetual construction around City Hall and wound up at a small bar near Sansom. He found a quiet corner booth and ordered two coffees. Whatever serious lawyers do after five, they don't drink during the day.

“Ever do a presumption of death hearing!" he asked.

"Fifteen years ago, fresh out of law school, I did a memo for a partner."

“Familiar with the law?"

"Unless it's changed. If all you have is a disappearance, no body or other direct proof of death, the passage of seven years without word gives rise to a presumption of death. If the person were alive, the law assumes that someone would have heard from them."

“I represent the survivors of a man who disappeared under circumstances strongly suggestive of his death. His name is—was--Daniel Wilson. We filed an action to have him declared dead. The hearing is Monday afternoon at one-thirty in Norristown. The insurance company is fighting tooth and nail."

“What carrier? I do some work for USF&G and for Travelers. I'd hate to get on their bad side. "

"Neither of them. Some one-lung life insurance outfit out of Iowa. Reliant Fidelity Mutual, or something like that."

"Let's hear some more. "

“He lived in Philly and had offices in the city and in Norristown. I figured that his office in Norristown gave me enough to get venue in Montgomery County. I don’t come into Philadelphia for trials if I can avoid it. The insurance company won’t offer a nickel, but they don’t care if it’s in Philadelphia or Montgomery County. "

“What kind of office?"

“A law office. Never heard of the guy before this case, though. I made a couple calls to friends from law school, but neither of them knew him. "

“Lawyers aren’t disappearing kinds of people. We’re more like barnacles.”

"Wait till you hear about the disappearance. Just after New Year's, seven years ago. His sister was in town from LA; they planned to get together. They’re in separate cars, out in the country. Powell Township, Berks County. She finds his car off the road full of bullet holes. Plenty of blood, but no body. Police can't turn up shit. He was never heard from again."

It was short notice, but I had no plans for the weekend. It sounded like a break from skip traces and catching thieving employees. And it paid. “The case has been kicking around for months. You didn’t decide to hire an investigator this morning.”

Even in the dimness I could tell he was flustered. “Yeah, you're right; you're getting sloppy seconds. The Shreiner Agency was handling it till yesterday. " I just sat there until he decided to continue. "They were doing all the usual interviews, credit checks, asset checks. They hand-delivered back the file and refunded our retainer. And a letter saying they wouldn't be able to help any further. "

"Someone warned them off. "

“There could be other reasons."

“This thing smells to me like organized crime. That's out of my league. "

“Look, nobody's asking you to find who killed him, even if he’s dead. We just need to say that there's no evidence he's alive. That ought to be easy enough." He didn't say the words ‘even for you’, but I heard them.

“Tell that to the Shreiner Agency. "

He finished his coffee. He was anxious to get help, but I was clearly hitting a nerve. "Yes or no?"

I normally worked for a flat fifty dollars an hour. Right then, considering who I’d be working for and whatever had happened to the Shreiner Agency, I wasn’t so sure if I wanted it. "I charge my attorney's rate--one hundred fifty per hour; two hundred for work outside of business hours, half rate for travel time, plus all expenses."

“Think you can come up with something for that kind of money?”

“Haven't the slightest idea. You know how it is. I work by time, not results."

“That's a lot of money."

“And it's quarter to twelve on Friday."

He gave me the kind of look I didn't normally associate with being hired--it was closer to the expression you get when you steal somebody's parking place. But he grunted something that sounded like "okay" and gave me his business card with his home number on it. And the Shreiner file, too--there was so little of it, he was carrying it in his breast pocket.

"I'll look this over and do what I can this afternoon. When can I talk to the sister?" I asked.

“Give me your card. She’s in the area. I'll have her at your office at nine tomorrow morning. "

“Make it seven; I don't want to lose any time on Saturday. It’s tougher to reach people on Sunday."

"Okay, but keep me posted, will you? Remember that you're working under the supervision of an attorney. "

“Right. " I wanted to tell him that I was working under the supervision of an asshole, but I let it pass.

Philadelphia has mild winters, but early January is no time to linger outside. I needed a quiet place to read. I went to Suburban Station and found an empty bench.

The Shreiner Agency was like the Army: bloated, bureaucratic, and sluggish, and most of its best people moved along after a few years. Yet they were careful and scrupulously honest. That counted for a lot in my business.

The file was only about twenty pages, and most of it was negative information. Daniel Wilson hadn't voted in his home district since the time of his disappearance. Neither had he started any lawsuits, mortgaged any real estate, filed for bankruptcy, used his credit cards, joined the armed forces, opened any bank accounts, or taken out a marriage license. His driver's license had expired a year after he disappeared and had never been renewed. At the time of his disappearance he had no points on his license and no criminal record. Since then, there had been no activity in his checking or savings accounts; the balances in each were a few hundred dollars. No income taxes or property taxes had been paid in seven years. None of this distinguished Daniel Wilson from somewhere between ten and fifteen percent of the population. I would need a lot more than this to convince a judge he was dead.

Toward the bottom of the pile I found an interim report by “JBF," who I knew to be Jonathan Franklin, an investigator I’d worked with before. According to the report, at the time of his disappearance Wilson was thirty years old, short to medium height, wiry build, brown hair and eyes. Paper-clipped to the corner of the first page was a black-and-white wallet-size formal photo of Wilson in a suit and tie. From the date on the back, it was probably his law school graduation portrait. Assuming he graduated at twenty-five, the picture was twelve years old. I had visions of showing it and asking people if they'd ever seen an average-looking guy with glasses and brown hair before. It was a pleasant-looking face; maybe a little bland, but presentable. His cheeks were smooth and pink, and he looked closer to twenty than twenty-five. His glasses weren't the wire-rimmed ones that were fashionable when I was in college, or the high-tech rimless models the yuppies wore now, but good old-fashioned ones, horn rimmed, with a heavy frame. He had the kind of face clients would trust.

The family background was minimal. Wilson's father had died when he was a child; his mother was still living and worked cleaning offices in Center City. She lived in the Overbrook section of west Philadelphia. There was one sibling, a sister, Lisa, two years older; a former nurse who now lived in a small town upstate. She’d been living in LA, if I remembered Louchs correctly. I figured her for a loyal daughter who’d moved back east to be close to their mother after Daniel’s death, or disappearance, or whatever it was. Neither Lisa nor Daniel had any children. Neither had ever been married.

Franklin had come up with some more about Wilson's grade and high school education. Wilson was consistently a superior student; not brilliant, but always near the top of the class. He was seldom absent, hardly ever late with work assignments, and never a discipline problem. Several of his high school classmates had been contacted; they remembered him as serious and hardworking. He played no sports but was active with the school literary magazine and the newspaper: He had a few dates, but no one remembered a steady girlfriend.

Except to tell me that he'd attended Gettysburg College, was secretary of the Photography Club, and obtained a degree in history, the college section was a blank. I wasn't surprised; in high school everybody knows everybody. But people are too busy in college to know more than a couple of people well. Investigating backgrounds at the college level is usually helpful only if the subject was very well known or if the school was very small. I was reading with only half my attention by then; I was trying to imagine what kind of man was behind that picture. And what was the judge going to make of him. I hoped he wouldn't decide that Wilson was the kind of loner who would pull up stakes and disappear without a word to anybody.

The next section was hardly more help. After college, three years at Temple Law School, graduating about one-third of the way from the top. He passed the bar on the first try and set up practice in Center City with a classmate, Leo Strasnick. When Wilson disappeared five years later, the partnership already had three associates, with offices in Philadelphia and Norristown. Nice growth.

I rubbed my eyes and looked at my watch. It was nearly one, and this was the only business day before the day of the hearing. The rest of the file would have to wait.

One of the advantages of Suburban Station was plenty of phone booths. My investigation got off on the right foot. Not only was Leo Strasnick available, he agreed to see me at four that afternoon. His office was only a few blocks from the station.

I tried Shreiner's next.

"Shreiner Security Agency. How may we help you?" She sounded like a recording of herself.

"Mr. Franklin, please."

“And whom may I say is calling?

"She was good. If my gross ever broke into seven figures, I promised myself I would get a receptionist who talked that well. And to take lessons from her.

“Just say I'm calling regarding the Wilson case. " I was curious to see if that would be enough to get me through.

“Yeah, this is Jon Franklin," was all he said, but it was enough. Something was bothering him. His words were unnaturally clipped, and his voice was too loud and too fast.

“Hello, Jon, this is Dave Garrett--"

“You said you were calling about Wilson?”

“Yeah, right," I said as casually as I could “Remember me, Jon? We worked together on those tools disappearing out of Sun Shipbuilding? I was--"

"I remember. " Then his voice got softer. "Dave, what do you have to do with this? We're not in the Wilson case."

"I've just taken it over. " There was silence on the other end. "I've read your report and I assume there's more than you had time to put in writing. " More silence. "Look, Jon, the case is coming up Monday, for Christ's sake. Cut me some slack."

“You want some advice? Don't take the case."

"The lawyer guaranteed payment," I said, being deliberately stupid. I had a lot of practice at that.

"No amount of money is worth it. " I'd been expecting him to say that, but he was at the biggest agency in the state a fifteen-year veteran of the Philadelphia police.

“Can we get together somewhere?”

"I've told you all you need to know already," he said, and hung up."


Excerpt from The January Corpse by Neil Albert. Copyright 1990 by Neil Albert. Reproduced with permission from Neil Albert. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:

Neil Albert

Neil Albert is a trial lawyer in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and this book is based on a real presumption of death hearing. He has completed nine of the projected twelve books in the series and hopes to finish with December within the next two years. His interest in writing mysteries was kindled by reading Ross Macdonald and Neil operates a blog with an in-depth analysis of each of Macdonald's books, In his younger years he was an avid fox hunter. His best memory is that he hunted for fifteen years and was the only member not be to seriously injured at least once.

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Murder on the Geneva Express: A Mac and Millie Mystery by JB Michaels

About the Book

Dead body found on Geneva Express!

In a perfect storm of misfortune, Mac O’Malley finds himself embroiled in a whodunnit that has everyone convinced HE has done it. Mac and Millie race against time, flee from authorities both municipal and magical, and attempt to clear Mac and his good reputation from absolute incarceration.

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About the Author

I have spent my life in the study of story from riveting novels to the slam-bang action-packed world of comics to the examination of film history, I have spent a lifetime learning and examining the elements that make a story incredible. This steadfast dedication has led me to write stories of my own.

I am married and with a son, I have a great love of family. I hope that you enjoy my bestselling books that mash genres from thrillers to science fiction to fantasy!

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Someone's Always Watching by J.R. Lancaster

About the Book

Basil Billingsly has dedicated more than ten years to flying under the radar of everyone in Badger's Hollow.

He employs Mrs. Greene to do his bidding while he sets to work with clients far from prying eyes in the Village. He answers to no one and there isn't a soul alive that relies on him either. Everything was perfect, until it wasn't.

Now, a decade later, the killer has struck again, and Basil is forced to revisit the unsolved murder of his mother. Torn between love and lies, Basil must sort out his feelings before it’s too late. Old habits die hard, will he break them to save his friends, or will solitude call him home?

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When silence finally fell upon the neighborhood, it seemed to come so slowly that I hardly noticed. A knock sounded at the door, sending my heart through my chest. I stood still for a moment, hoping that whoever was on the side might give up and go away. Thump, thump, thump…

I gently cracked the door open just enough to see the man from earlier staring back at me. His dark eyes were encased in dark circles and puffed up to look worn and heavy. He had disheveled and messy hair, only adding to his rumpled appearance. Yet, there was an air of kindness about him that even a blind man could pick up on.

“Hello. The name’s Detective Sergeant Thornhill. Dowden Thornhill,” he said, as he pulled a leather badge from his pocket. “I was wondering if I might come inside and have a word with you?”

“Actually, now’s not a good time. What is this about?” I replied.

“I promise this will only take a minute. It’s rather important, actually. However, I would prefer that we talk in private. You understand.” Dowden stood his ground, leaving me no other way about it. I opened the door and let him in. 

“Thank you. Quite a nice place you’ve got here. Is there a lady of the house? I might need to ask her a few questions as well.” 

I noticed him craning his neck to peer into the dining room. I contemplated whether he realized I felt his questions were rude. I noted his empty ring finger. Hypocrite. 

“No. It’s just me who lives here.” I pulled at my vest even though it didn’t need straightening. 

“Oh, I see. I didn’t catch your name,” He said as he made his way around the sitting room looking at all the photos on display. Disgusted, I watched, feeling vulnerable as he touched all the beautiful things that now sat lifeless and collecting dust. Does he feel like this glimpse into my life, my past life no less, will help him get to know me better? I wonder if he knows who I am. It’s obvious he isn’t from around here as I’ve lived here my whole life and don’t recall ever meeting him.

“Basil Billingsly,” 

I eyed him as he walked toward the sofa and casually took a seat. What possessed a person to do that? I would much rather prefer he not make himself at home. But, being that he was an officer of the law, I held my tongue. 

“May I call you Basil?”

I nodded, “If you must.” 

I moved across the room to adjust the pictures he left off-center, paying special attention to the one of my mother holding me as an infant. A sour feeling exposed itself as I wondered if my past would make its way into our conversation.  

“Are you alright?” 

“Yes, I don’t like… I mean… er... It’s been a rather long time since I have had proper visitors. I like to keep to myself.” I turned to face him. “Forgive me. Where are my manners? Would you care for a cup of tea?” 

“Ah, I see. No, thank you. Why don’t you have a seat?”

I couldn’t read the look on his face. But I will do anything to speed up our time together. I took my seat in my mother’s tattered checkered chair by the fireplace. It was her favorite place to read, no matter the time of day. Though, I did not know the irony that would come into play when he revealed his reasons for darkening my doorstep. 


About the Author

J.R. Lancaster is a published journalist, editor and owner of Musings & Co. Creative Agency. She resides in the Midwest with her husband and children. J.R.’s hobbies include hiking, fishing, foraging and reading. She is known for her short stories and human interest pieces. JR graduated from Southern New Hampshire University with an MFA in Creative Writing and Teaching Certificate in English. Connect with Jessica on Twitter @jrlauthor or Instagram

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A Crust to Die For (A Tiffany Austin Food Blogger Mystery) by Toni LoTempio

About the Book

The Bon-Appetempting Pizza Bake-Off has the small town of Branson, Georgia buzzing. Not least its organizer, Southern Style's food critic and blogger Tiffany Austin. But right before the finals one of the celebrity judges falls ill, and to Tiffany's horror the magazine replaces him with none other than handsome TV star and restaurateur Bartholomew Driscoll.

Tiffany once gave his restaurant a poor review, and she's convinced he's only accepted the job to get revenge. She fully expects Driscoll will find a way to ruin the contest . . . but she definitely doesn't expect to trip over his dead body backstage!

Soon, it's clear Tiffany wasn't the only person who had less than positive feelings towards the sharp-tongued Driscoll. She's surrounded by suspects - but which of the motley crew of contestants, family members and scorned friends and colleagues had the guts to commit murder?

With the help of her BFF Hilary and annoyingly handsome detective Bartell, and with cat Lily and puppy Cooper as emotional support, Tiffany investigates, only to discover that revenge is indeed a dish best served cold . . .

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“Contestants, you have less than twenty minutes left to finish your pies for the first round of judging.”

From our vantage point in the wings, Hilary and I had an excellent view of the stage and the contestant’s entries. Hilary gave me a swift nudge in the ribs with her elbow. “Look at Kurt Howell’s pie. It looks like a work of art.”

I had to agree. The pie that Howell had pulled out of his oven looked like something that should be on the cover of a food magazine.

Hilary gave me another nudge, this one harder. “Look at Arleen. She seems upset, doesn’t she?”

I looked at Hilary’s sister. She was looking inside the oven and frowning. She opened the oven, took out her pie and frowned at it.

“It doesn’t look like it’s cooked, does it?” whispered Hilary.

I shook my head. “No it doesn’t. Maybe that’s why she looks upset.”

Arleen abruptly left her station and walked around to the other side. She bent down and fiddled there for a few seconds, then raced back to her counter and began to swiftly assemble another pie.

“What is she doing?” Hilary cried. “Making another pie? Does she have enough time?”

I watched as Arleen, who appeared to be cool as a cucumber, quickly rolled out her dough. She spread a generous amount of sauce on top and then grabbed a sharp-looking chef’s knife from her counter and sliced tomatoes and vegetables in record time. She assembled her toppings, set them on her pie and slid it into the oven just as Troy Howard sang out, “Thirteen minutes, contestants.”

I gave Hilary’s arm a squeeze. “A pizza normally takes between eight and twelve minutes to bake. Arleen’s should just make it.”

Hilary frowned. “Okay, but why on earth did she have to do a second pie in the first place?”

“I’d like to know the answer to that myself.”

Thirteen minutes later the bell rang, signifying the end of the first round of the bake-off. Arleen had put her pizza in a warming bag and brought it up to the judging table with two minutes to spare. Kurt had placed his there a few minutes before. Bringing up the rear was Colleen Collins. She didn’t look at all happy with her pizza, even though I had to admit it looked and smelled yummy. Troy Howard announced a half hour intermission to allow the judges time to taste, and Hilary and I immediately made our way backstage. Arleen was waiting for us, a grim expression on her face.

Hilary didn’t waste any time. “What happened? Why did you make another pie?”

Arleen’s eyes were flashing sparks. “Because someone unplugged my oven, that’s why? I thought something was wrong.” She huffed a blonde curl out of her eye. “Thank God I walked around to check. It took a little elbow grease to get that plug back in, but...actually it might have been for the best. I think my second pie was better than the first.”

“I wonder how that plug came out,” Hilary mused. “I thought they checked all the equipment before the contest began.”

“They do,” said Arleen. “Someone waited until my stove was checked, then deliberately unplugged it.”

“No!” Hilary gasped. “Who would do such a thing?”

“Oh, I know exactly who,” Arleen cried. She whirled around and pointed a finger at Colleen Collins. “Her!”


About the Author

T. C. LoTempio
is the award-winning, national bestselling author of the Nick and Nora mystery series. Her cat, Rocco, provides the inspiration for the character of Nick the cat. She also writes the Urban Tails Pet Shop Mystery Series, as well as the Cat Rescue series. Her latest series is the Tiffany Austin Food Blogger series from Severn House. Check out her and Rocco's blog,, and visit her website,, for more information.

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