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Book Review: ‘Sorrow’ by John Lawson

perf6.000x9.000.inddSorrow begins with a mysterious traveler on a mission, secretly carrying a box which contains a precious, powerful weapon.

Then the story moves to Vestiga Gaesi, where we meet Faina, the seductive yet naive fourteen-year old girl with a mysterious past who is staying at the Viscount’s luxurious home — where the story mainly takes place. Then, that night, an important Bishop is murdered, and Lord Ash is called to solve the case. It appears this isn’t the first crime committed against members of the clergy in the past few months. Thus begins his investigation. Soon, he has a suspect: Sorrow. Unfortunately, no one knows who this Sorrow really is, for this killer appears to be a supernatural creature that sheds black tears while killing. Who is Sorrow? Why are victims clergymen? What is Faina’s real identity and why is she in Vestiga Gaesi?

Lawson has created a very real, dark fantasy world that readers will be able to picture vividly in their minds. The descriptions, mood, and dialogue all help bring this story’s detailed world to life. The characters are deftly drawn and come across as genuine people. The prose sparkles with beautifully crafted language. Lawson’s strength lies in characterization and creating an imaginative dark world. I’d like to add that I found the details about religion and the clergy to be very well researched.

There’s an array of interesting characters with equal levels of importance that, together with intriguing twists and turns, will keep readers guessing: Phindol, the unfortunate traveler; Lord Ash, the detective who tries to solve the murder; and, of course, Faina, the alluring Lolita-like protagonist shrouded in mystery who seems to unwillingly seduce all men who set eyes on her. Though the writing is in good taste and there’s nothing graphic, I should mention that some of her scenes with Lord Ash and Phintol, both adult males, might be considered a bit disturbing to sensitive readers.

Sorrow is a standalone novel. However, it takes place in the same world — though hundreds of years apart — as Lawson’s previous novel, The Loathly Lady, also by Dragonwell Publishing.

Recommended for fans of dark fantasy who like a strong touch of mystery.

Purchase on Amazon / Dragonwell Publishing

My review was previously published in Blogcritics Magazine

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Interview with Michael Bigham, Author of Harkness

Michael Bigham photo

Raised in the mill town of Prineville in Central Oregon beneath blue skies and rimrocks, Michael Bigham attended the University of Oregon and during his collegiate summers, fought range fires on the Oregon high desert for the Bureau of Land Management. He worked as a police officer with the Port of Portland and after leaving police work, obtained an MFA degree in Creative Writing from Vermont College. Michael lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and daughter. Harkness is his first novel.

Q: Thank you for this interview, Michael. Can you tell us what your latest book, Harkness: A High Desert Mystery, is all about?

Harkness occurs during the summer of 1952 on the high desert in Central Oregon. Up to this point, the worst crime Matt Harkness, the local sheriff, has faced is two drunk cowboys playing quick draw out behind the local tavern. But now two star-crossed teen-age lovers are murdered. It’s up to Harkness to bring whoever has killed them to justice. His task is complicated by the secretive nature of the townspeople. Harkness is privy the local’s secrets and he must decide which secrets to reveal to catch the murderer.

Q:  Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

Matthew Harkness is a man formed by violence. His father died when Harkness was eight and his mother physically abused him. He left home at the age of 12, drifted around for a while and ended up living in Barnesville with his uncle. Drafted into the military during World War II, he fought in jungles New Guinea and bears both physical and emotional scars from the conflict. He strives to put aside his past, but the recent murders test his resolve. The great love of his life is Kate Barnes. The complication is that Kate is married to the local judge and most powerful man in the county, Porter Barnes.

Kate Barnes is a bright woman from local farming stock. She loves Harkness but questions his ability to commit to a long-term relationship. Like many women in the post-war era, she wants to be more than just a housewife.

The town of Barnesville is named after one of Porter Barnes’ fore bearers. He wields the real power in the county. He loves Kate in his own way, but his real passion is reserved for another.

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination? Harkness cover

Like most writers, my characters are a mix of my imagination and bits of real people. I’ve found that if I focus too much on real people, I’m limited on what I can do with my descriptions and characterization.

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?

I knew that Harkness would have to solve a murder and I had a vague awareness of the setting and circumstances of the climax. The journey between the two points was one of discovery and exploration.

Q: Your book is set in Barnesville.  Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?

I grew up in a small Central Oregon lumber and ranching town called Prineville. Though my characters aren’t based all that much on reality, the town of Barnesville is. Some folks may not think my depiction is flattering in spots, but I think it’ important for a writer to give the reader a true sense of a place, warts and all.

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

Absolutely. During college, I spent my summers fighting range fires on the high desert 50 miles east of nowhere near the little village of Paulina. I came to love the stark nature of the country. It’s a landscape of juniper, sagebrush and rimrock. There you’ll find lonely vistas and fertile valleys. It’s still unspoiled by progress. If you have a chance, visit there before it all disappears. As a writer, I find that landscape plays a crucial role in developing my narrative. 

Q: Open the book to page 69.  What is happening?

A:  Sheriff Matt Harkness has just returned to his office after interviewing a suspect in the murder of a young woman. There are two people in custody in his jail; Ronnie Gearhart, who beat up his father when the man attacked his mother and Thomas Stewart, an African-American man, who by bad fortune happened to be driving through the all-white town of Barnesville and was arrested by another peace officer as a suspect in the murder. Harkness knows he will have to find the real murderer to clear Stewart.

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

A:  Early in the book, Sheriff Matt Harkness drives up into the hills to tell Ethan Kelly his daughter is missing.

Ethan Kelly had his head stuck under the hood of a military deuce and a half converted into a hay truck.  The flatbed had been cobbled on in some local garage, but the job looked good enough.  If he was surprised to see me, he didn’t show it, just wiped his hands on his overalls and offered me a drink of water.  He was a smallish, slender man with bad teeth, sun-blackened arms, and the odor of three or four day’s hard labor about him.  I told him I was here about his daughter, and he got a long, sad look on his face.  He invited me into the line shack to get out of the sun.  “A man shouldn’t hear bad news in the sun.”

I told him it wasn’t as bad as all that.  I didn’t add the ‘yet’ part.  Maybe I didn’t want to admit to that part myself.

The line shack consisted of a single room about as big as the Kelly home.  Light came from kerosene lamps, and there was a hand pump next to the sink for water.  As usual with those old places, the crapper was out back, and I got to thinking about how and where Elias Warner got bit by the black widow spider.

Kelly settled into warming up the morning coffee while I told him his daughter was missing.  His shoulders sagged at the news. “I was just going to have beans for supper,” he said.  “Care to join me?”

I’d had more than my share of beans growing up and wasn’t partial to them, but I wasn’t one to let a man eat alone when he was in the sorrows, so I said yes.  The line shack creaked in the afternoon wind while Kelly opened a can of pork and beans and dumped it into a battered saucepan.  “Virginia’s a good girl,” he said.  “A pretty gal, but smart, too.”

“That’s what folks tell me.” My comment seemed to please Kelly a bit.  “They also tell me she was seeing the McIntyre boy.  What about that?”

“Her mama told her not to give it up too soon, not to get knocked-up and ruin her life.  Us folks ain’t got much in this life other than our reputation, she tells her.”  He handed me a plate of beans and a cup of Joe. “Esther seems to think that graduating from high school is important.”  He shook his head as if he wasn’t sure he agreed.  “Hope you don’t mind cowboy coffee. Last line rider up here took off with the percolator. Now we have to boil the bejesus out of the grounds.  Got some sugar if you want it.”

“Black’s fine.” The stuff looked like something you’d swab onto a flat roof.  “Joey McIntyre,” I prompted.  “Tell me about the boy and your daughter.”

Kelly allowed that he didn’t know much about his daughter’s recent dealings with McIntyre, as he’d been over in Willamette Valley for most of the summer roofing and doing pickup labor.  “The money’s good enough, but too many people in the Valley.”  So he’d asked Dirk Redmond if he might have a job on one of his ranches, and Dirk said, “Hell, yes. Come on back.” So he did.  “Esther, she frets about Virginia, sneaking out all hours of the night with God knows who.  Virginia was a hard girl to handle, being so smart and all, and Esther had her hands full taking care of all them kids and doing seamstress work on the side. Maybe we should take a switch to the child, but neither of us has the heart for it.”

Kelly sighed and took a couple bites of beans.  “Maybe we figured she’d grow out of her wildness.  If only…”  He sipped his coffee and spilled some on his t-shirt.  “Shit,” he said, brushing himself.  He sat there in a straight-backed chair, mouth set in a tight line, and stared at the bare wall as if I wasn’t there.  Did he know or intuit something I didn’t?

He roused himself and told me that Virginia wanted to attend beauty school.  “She’s got the gumption to do it.  Fucking boys anyway. Sniffing around her like bird dogs.”

I asked him if he knew the names of anyone else she might have seen other than Joey McIntyre. He told me he wouldn’t be surprised if she had, but he didn’t know who, and he didn’t know where she might be.

He seemed pretty much talked out by then, so I asked him if he needed anything with the hay truck being broke and all, but he said “Nope.”  I left him sitting in his chair with a stained t-shirt and a plate of cold beans.

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Michael.  We wish you much success!

A: Thanks. I really appreciate the opportunity. You have a great blog. If you have a chance, check out my blog at www.michaelbigham.com

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Read-a-Chapter: Before He Kills Again, by R. Barri Flowers

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the suspense thriller, Before He Kills Again, by R. Barri Flowers. Enjoy!

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Before He Kills Again_Cover

From R. Barri Flowers, award winning crime writer and international bestselling author of Dark Streets of Whitechapel and Killer in The Woods, comes a gripping new psychological thriller, Before He Kills Again: A Veronica Vasquez Thriller.

FBI psychologist and criminal profiler Veronica Vasquez returns to her hometown of Portland, Oregon to assist police in apprehending a ruthless serial killer dubbed “The Rose Killer,” who kills beautiful women in pairs, leaving a rose on top of each corpse.

Heading the investigation is homicide Detective Sergeant Bryan Waldicott. Veronica must win him over, along with the entire task force, and prove herself worthy of the job. Since losing her husband three years ago, Veronica had been focused on her work to escape the pain of loneliness and separation. A romance with Waldicott, who has issues of his own, complicates things for them both as they try to stop a serial murderer before he kills again.

When she begins to suspect that the new husband of her estranged sister Alexandra could be the killer, Veronica pursues that delicate angle and, in the process, becomes a target herself.

Before He Kills Again is tense thriller that will keep readers on edge till the very end.

Amazon Trade Paperback / Kindle /Kindle UK / Kindle CA / Barnes and Noble Nook eBook / Smashwords / Kobo

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PROLOGUE

He walked around inconspicuously, nodding in a friendly manner to other shoppers who nodded back and smiled as if they really meant it. There were flowers of every type imaginable—Dutch tulips, pretty campanula, fresh lilies, and magnificent daisies—giving him ample choices. But he already knew what he wanted long before he got to the store. In fact, he had known for months now…the notion was etched in his mind. After a suitable time spent wandering around like a lost puppy, he walked up to the counter and waited to be helped.

The florist flashed him an exaggerated smile and said: “Can I help you, sir?”

“Yes, I’d like a dozen of those white roses,” he said cheerfully, pointing at a large vase behind the counter.

“Sure thing,” she said.

He watched her ass jiggle as she walked over and pulled out twelve long stemmed roses.

“White roses seem to be pretty popular these days,” she commented.

That was exactly what he was counting on.

“With good reason,” he said, pouring on the charm. “I think they are the prettiest roses.”

“I agree,” she told him.

He knew she would have said that no matter what color roses he had chosen to buy. But that was fine with him. She was just doing her job.

The woman pulled out some red paper from beneath the counter, set the roses atop it, and began to wrap them. “Looks like some lucky lady will be grinning from ear to ear this evening,” she said.

He smiled. “You’ve got that right.”

As always, he paid for the flowers with cash, was careful not to touch anything else, and left the store humming. In the parking lot, he walked over to a black van. Once inside, he tossed the flowers on the passenger seat.

“Bought something for you lucky ladies,” he said, glancing in the back of the van at his guests. “But you can’t have it yet. I’m sure you understand. You’re not exactly in a position to show your gratitude right now.”

He laughed, pleased with his dry humor, started the engine, and took off. Within minutes, he was on Interstate 5 heading south from Portland. Dusk had settled in like sand in the desert and he turned on his lights to cut through the newly formed darkness.

In the back, he could hear one of his prisoners starting to moan and squirm, as if this would somehow lead to her rescue. Sorry, but that’s not gonna happen, he thought gleefully. Though her hands and feet were bound securely and her mouth taped shut, he could not get to his destination fast enough. Alerting the attention of a nosey passerby with a cell phone could ruin his plans in more ways than one.

“Save your breath,” he shouted at her, hiding the fact that he could never be totally at ease. Not until the job was done. The bitches had to pay…with their lives. All in good time. “Believe me,” he admonished the moaner, “you’ll need it later when you really have something to whine about. And don’t even think about getting away. Escape is damn near impossible! Hell, there is no way out—at least not in the way you think.”

The prisoner increased her moaning and wriggling with the desperation of a terrified person who knew she had nothing to lose at this point. If she only knew. He turned up the volume and sang along to Louis Armstrong’s gravelly rendition of “Mack the Knife,” effectively drowning her out.

“And the shark bites,” he sang along, “with those pearly white teeth, dear…”

Looking into the rear view mirror, he observed the woman. She was in her late thirties with almond brown skin and thick curly black hair that reminded him of a baby lamb’s wool. Taller than most women and slender in all the right places, she was just the way he liked them. She had on well-worn jeans and a bright pink blouse that was so tight across her large braless breasts he was surprised it had not ripped apart during her valiant struggle to elude capture. Of course, he had been one step quicker, physically superior, and more determined to have what he wanted.

He glanced at the other prisoner. She was motionless, obviously still under from the isoflurane he’d used to sedate her. The woman, in her mid-thirties, was white with permed auburn hair and somewhat on the slim side. She was a few inches shorter than his other captive and wore a faded, oversized jersey and jean shorts. Her bony legs were less than appealing, but he knew she would have to do.

Both bitches would do tonight. They had to pay the ultimate price for what she had done to him.

And that whining bitch will be the first to get it, he thought, eyeing the squirming, moaning black woman.

The speedometer read sixty-five and he was tempted to kick it to eighty, maybe ninety. He loved going fast and feeling the pungent air hitting his face as if to snap him back to life. Instead, he let up on the pedal, bringing his speed down to the limit of fifty-five along this stretch. He couldn’t take any chances that the cops might pick his vehicle randomly amongst the many speeders to stop.

That would certainly interfere big time with his plans for these two.

Not to mention put him on a one-way trip to prison—or worse.

As if to validate his paranoia, or perhaps ensure that he would not go down without one hell of a fight, he leaned over, opened the glove compartment, and pulled out a .357 Magnum. The cool steel felt good in his hands. He rested it against his face for a moment or two before putting it back in its resting place…knowing it was ready to grab at a moment’s notice.

He took the exit for Hillcrest. Soon he was passing by the familiar gas station and a strip of stores and places to eat. He turned onto an unpaved road and headed down about three miles, made a right, and went past farmhouses, pastures, and pine trees. It was about as far away from Portland as you could get and still be within a short drive of the city.

Soon he reached his destination. He drove onto a winding gravel road that led to his property. The one story western red cedar log cabin sat on two acres of overgrown weeds and tall evergreens. The nearest neighbor was a mile away, which suited his purposes just fine.

He pulled up to a dirt path in front of the cabin that served as a sidewalk and shut off the engine.

“Welcome, ladies,” he told his captives, “to my own little private hideaway. Now it’s your home, too…at least temporarily.” He chuckled nastily.

He dragged the black woman into the cabin first, enjoying her resistance.

“Scream your pretty head off,” he spat. “It won’t do you one bit of good—except maybe give you some pointless satisfaction that you didn’t go down without making your whiny voice heard.” He laughed. “Too bad I can’t understand a thing you’re saying with that tape strapped across your lips.”

In the back room, he left her on the floor with her arms and ankles still secured while he went out to get the white bitch. She had begun to stir, as if coming out of a bad dream.

But he knew her nightmare had only just begun.

She joined the black bitch in the room. He left them to contemplate their fate while he got the roses out of the van. He put the flowers on a small wooden table in the front room. As usual, he needed only two, tossing the others in a wastebasket to rot.

He put one of the roses on some newspaper and grabbed a can of black spray paint. After shaking it, he sprayed it liberally on the rose till it was as black as charcoal.

Perfect, he thought, nodding with approval. Just perfect. It would be nice and dry by the time he finished with his captives. Then the black and white roses could be presented to them appropriately for their cooperation and participation in his game of life and death.

The mere thought of killing them infuriated and excited him like nothing else he could imagine.

Except the thought of his next kill…

And the terror in the eyes of those who would soon become his next victims.

CHAPTER ONE

Veronica Vasquez was admittedly a bit nervous as she waited in the office of Homicide Detective Bryan Waldicott of the Portland Police Bureau. At the Bureau’s request, she had been loaned to the department as a criminal psychologist and profiling member of the FBI’s Serial Killer Unit. She was proud to have earned her stripes as a certified FBI profiler and determined to stay one step ahead of those who would like to see her “put back in her place.”

Her current assignment was to help track down a vicious sexual serial killer terrorizing Portland, Oregon and its surrounding neighborhoods. Dubbed by the press as “The Rose Killer,” the unsub had murdered six women thus far. The murders occurred in pairs, involving a Caucasian woman and a woman of color. The women had all been severely beaten, disfigured, and strangled. Most had also been sexually assaulted.

As grisly and unusual as this was, Veronica’s frayed nerves were not due to the morbidity of the case or being uprooted from her home in Washington, D.C. at a moment’s notice. Nor was she shaky at the prospect of having to deal with a temporary new boss who had once been one of the FBI’s most brash and bright special agents, until he inexplicably walked away from Quantico three years ago.

It wasn’t even the fact that she had just turned thirty-five and was already a widow with seemingly the best years of her life behind her.

No, what disturbed Veronica more than she cared to admit was returning to her hometown of Portland for the first time in nearly eight years. Not too coincidentally, that was the last time she had seen her sister, Alexandra, who was two years her junior. In fact, the two had not seen eye to eye on much of anything ever since their parents died when the sisters were in their late teens.

If the truth were told, they were about as different as night and day in Veronica’s mind, leaving little ground for a stable, steady relationship, much less a bona fide sisterly bond. It had just seemed better all the way around if they went their own separate ways.

Or at least one of them.

And it ended up being her.

Now, against her better wishes, she had come back. She knew she would have to face Alexandra sooner or later to see if they could possibly salvage anything out of their kinship or if they would remain lost to each other forever.

Veronica forced these thoughts aside as she saw a tall, well-built man approaching the office. Even from a distance, she could see that he was handsome and looked to be in his late thirties. Thick hair that was as black as the night surrounded a chiseled face with a long, pronounced nose. When he got closer, she could see that his eyes—never parting from hers as if in a trance—were pools of deep blue with an intensity that probably matched her own green eyes with gold speckles. He wore a navy suit that was only slightly wrinkled, as if to indicate that he refused to go more than a few days without having it pressed. His striped tie was only loosely fastened over a crisp, white shirt.

Veronica immediately sat up in the chair, as if she had been slouching and did not want to make a bad first impression. She had chosen to wear a gray suit that flattered her five-foot-seven inch slender frame, along with a pink shirt, and black low-heeled pumps. Her straight black hair hung across her shoulders, bordering a heart-shaped face.

She rose to her feet as the man entered the office, self-consciously pulling down her jacket. Her mouth opened to a soft smile after she saw him do the same.

Don’t let him see you sweat, she told herself. You’ve done this enough times. No reason to be intimidated now.

“Mrs. Vasquez—?” he asked in a strong baritone voice.

Veronica hadn’t been called Mrs. Vasquez much in recent memory. Not since Daniel died three years ago. Did the detective think she was still married? Had he forgotten that she was an FBI agent and should be referred to as Special Agent Vasquez, if not simply Vasquez? Or, if the conversation was strictly informal, he could just call her Veronica.

Perhaps he was just being polite out of respect. Whatever his rationale was, Veronica realized that the formal title of Mrs. had the effect of dating her current status more than she wanted it to as a single woman. Though she was not looking for love, per se, she was no longer close-minded to it.

She gave a slight nod. “Special Agent Veronica Vasquez at your service,” she said, realizing too late that she had sounded as if it was a military pronouncement. She quickly tried to correct her tone. “And you must be—?”

“Detective Sergeant Bryan Waldicott, Homicide Division, Portland Police Bureau,” he said with obvious amusement. He stuck out his hand, which Veronica shook in an obligatory show of greeting that seemed to last longer than either of them had probably intended. Waldicott was the first to pull away, while giving her a hard look. “Right off the bat, Special Agent Vasquez, I think I should be perfectly honest with you and say that I was initially opposed to calling in someone from the FBI to help with this case. I figured the last thing we needed was to have the Feds looking over our shoulders while we try to get a handle on a murder case that’s strictly local as far as I can tell.”

Veronica thought about the word initially. Why should he, of all people, be opposed to assistance from his former employer? Was there a story there? Did she need to know it? She hadn’t heard specifically that there had been bad blood when he left the Bureau. But that didn’t mean there wasn’t any.

“So what changed your mind?” she asked, assuming that he had made an about face.

Waldicott ran his hand the length of a square jaw and sculpted chin with a deep cleft its centerpiece and sighed thoughtfully. “Well, I guess I came to realize that at this point we could really use all the help we can get. Even from the FBI. We’ve got a ruthless serial killer on the prowl and he’s not only elusive, but he’s frightening the hell out of the women in Portland. And a few of us men, too. So who was I to tell my boss, much less the families of the victims, that I wasn’t willing to do anything and everything in my power to bring this monster to justice?”

“I’ll be happy to do all I can,” Veronica promised, feeling somewhat relieved that she hadn’t apparently made an enemy of the man she had been assigned to work with. “And, just for the record, I’m not here to step on anyone’s toes, Detective. I just want to fit in as part of the team working on this case. Fair?”

He looked at her for a moment as if weighing his options, before cracking a slight smile. “More than fair, Agent Vasquez.”

Veronica flashed a tiny smile of mutual cooperation. So far, so good, she thought. Realistically, she knew there was only so much a profiler could do—no matter her skills and intuition. Yes, she could draw a composite of the killer and the likely victims. She could even tell them all they ever wanted to know about the psyche of a serial killer. But the real blood and guts work was performed by the people who had to follow up on leads, which often went nowhere, and sort through mounds and mounds of evidence and would-be evidence until they ultimately captured or killed the serial killer. Or stood by helplessly as the trail went cold while he continued to evade and taunt them.

“Please, sit down,” offered Waldicott with a sweep of his long arm.

Veronica sat again in the black leather chair. She watched as Bryan Waldicott sat at a desk that somehow seemed too small for a man his size. A file folder lay open on it. Waldicott looked up at her, down at the folder, and up again.

“So this is a homecoming of sorts for you,” he commented with a brow cocked whimsically. “It says here that you grew up in Portland.”

Veronica shivered. “Yes, on both counts.”

Waldicott looked at her curiously. “So why did you leave? In many respects, this seems like the ideal place to live and raise a family.”

Veronica wondered if this was a chauvinistic statement against women being in the work force, much less law enforcement, which was still mostly a male dominated profession. On the other hand, she could also imagine that Bryan Waldicott had a knock against FBI agents, in specific, as a former member of the ranks himself.

As if he sensed the implications of the question, Waldicott answered it himself with a shrug. “Why does anyone ever move away? Usually because they found something—or someone—better elsewhere. So which is it?”

Veronica considered the question and decided to reverse the tables. “Is that why you left the FBI?” she asked bluntly, seizing the moment. Or maybe it was the mystery behind the man himself that made her curious. “Because you found something…or someone better?”

Veronica could see that she had definitely struck a nerve, as Waldicott’s brow furrowed and his eyes narrowed to little more than razor slits. Immediately, she wished she had kept her mouth shut, if only because he was technically her superior. She had placed a courtesy call to the FBI field office in Portland and they had made it very clear that her current orders and assignment came from the man before her. A sinking feeling told Veronica that she had no more right to pry into his personal life than he had to pry into hers.

Waldicott’s mouth had become an irregular line, but then softened. “Looks like you’ve done some of your own homework, Agent Vasquez. I suppose that’s only fair, all things considered.” He took a breath. “If you must know, I left the Bureau because it seemed the best thing to do at the time. I have no regrets.”

Veronica could tell that he was clearly troubled by this, whatever the issue was, but managed to put on a brave face. His smile returned and he seemed to be waiting for her to respond to his original question of why she’d left home and the idyllic setting of the Pacific Northwest for a life elsewhere.

I’m not ready to share the intimate details of my personal life with him or anyone else at this time, she told herself.

After Veronica thought about it, she realized she could be just as succinct and mysterious with her response as he was, while keeping her own little secrets to herself. “I had an offer to join the FBI in D.C.,” she said simply. “And I took it.”

“All right,” Waldicott said. He seemed content to settle for that.

Veronica breathed a sigh of relief. As far as she was concerned, you could ask her anything about her profession or skills and she would be happy to respond, but her private life was to remain a closed book. It was too painful to open. Especially for someone she just met. Even though Bryan Waldicott seemed like he was used to getting what he went after sooner or later. She was determined to be the exception to the rule.

Waldicott closed the folder and stood up in one motion. “I’ll introduce you to everyone you haven’t already met. Then we’ll put your psychology and profiling skills to work—”

Veronica was sure she detected no sarcasm in his tone, which would make it much easier to work with him. She indicated her readiness by standing up. As they locked eyes, she had an uneasy feeling that they had not finished what they started. Strangely, she was not really even sure what that was.

Waldicott proffered his arm toward the door like a perfect gentleman and Veronica walked out ahead of him, lightly brushing against his jacket sleeve. She instantly felt electricity pass between them, causing the hair on the back of her neck to rise. She wondered if he felt it, too.

 

 

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Athol Dickson’s January Justice Book Blast and $25 Amazon Gift Card Giveaway

Reeling from his wife’s unsolved murder, Malcolm Cutter is just going through the motions as a chauffeur and bodyguard for Hollywood’s rich and famous. Then a pair of Guatemalan tough guys offer him a job. It’s an open question whether they’re patriotic revolutionaries or vicious terrorists. Either way, Cutter doesn’t much care until he gets a bomb through his window, a gangland beating on the streets of L.A., and three bullets in the chest. Now there’s another murder on Cutter’s Mind. His own.

Link to purchase: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00AGAW6EC

Athol Dickson’s mystery, suspense, and literary novels have won three Christy Awards and an Audie Award. Suspense fans who enjoyed Athol’s They Shall See God will love his latest novel, January Justice, the first installment in a new mystery series called The Malcolm Cutter Memoirs. The second and third novels in the series, Free Fall in February, and A March Murder, are coming in 2013.

Critics have favorably compared Athol’s work to such diverse authors as Octavia Butler (Publisher’s Weekly), Hermann Hesse (The New York Journal of Books) and Flannery O’Connor (The New York Times). Athol lives with his wife in southern California.

Website: http://www.malcolmcutter.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/AtholDickson

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Each person will enter this giveaway by liking, following, subscribing and tweeting about this giveaway through the Rafflecopter form placed on blogs throughout the tour. This promotion will run from March 18 – Mar 22. The winner will be chosen randomly by Rafflecopter, contacted by email, and announced on March 25, 2013. Visit each blog stop below to gain more entries as the Rafflecopter widget will be placed on each blog for the duration of the tour. Good luck everyone!

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Read-a-Chapter: Byzantine Gold, by Chris Karslen

read a chapterRead a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the romantic thriller, Byzantine Gold, by Chris Karslen. Enjoy!

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Purchase from Amazon

A sunken warship from the Byzantine Era carrying an unusual cargo of gold has been found off the coast of Northern Cyprus. News of the valuable cache has attracted the attention of a terrorist cell. They plan to attack the recovery team’s campsite and steal the artifacts. On the Black Market, the sale of the relics will buy them additional weapons.

 Charlotte Dashiell, an American archaeologist, and her lover, Atakan Vadim, a Turkish government agent, are scheduled to be part of the recovery team that brings up the artifacts. While en route to Cyprus, they find themselves caught in the crosshairs of Maksym Tischenko, a Ukrainian contract killer bent on revenge. Charlotte, Atakan and Tischenko share a grim history. As a result, Tischenko is a man who will stop at nothing to achieve his goal—seeing them both dead.

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Chapter One

Paris-April

Charlotte and Atakan stopped midway on Sacre-Coeur’s steep staircase to admire the basilica’s architecture. The Romanesque-Byzantine influence reminded her of historical buildings in Istanbul, their home. With the variegated onion-shaped domes and turrets similar to minarets, the church was one of the more unique city structures.

“So beautiful,” Charlotte said, “like an artifact on top of the skyline.” Atakan hadn’t said much as they came up the hill. She wasn’t sure if he was impressed or not.

“Reminds me of an Ottoman wedding cake,” he replied.

“Seeing this makes me anxious to start the recovery project,” Charlotte said, adding, “provided they select me for the team.”

“They will.”

Atakan embraced her from behind and nuzzled her neck, the uber sensitive side, then rested his chin on her head. She giggled, wrapped her arms around his and pressed deeper into his chest. He rarely showed his romantic side in public. Apparently, the romance of Paris had inspired him. She opened her mouth to say as much, but changed her mind. Why spoil the moment?

“You have a taste for Byzantine style jewelry. The Cyprus shipwreck is from that period. Perhaps we’ll get lucky and find a cache of jewelry at the site. You’ll have the opportunity to hold authentic pieces.” He released his embrace and moved next to her. “Shall we?”

A faint shiver trickled down her spine with the loss of his body’s warmth.

They continued to the entrance and inside.

“Let’s go to the dome first,” Charlotte said.

They climbed the narrow, spiral staircase eighty-three meters to the top, holding hands as they strolled along the gallery enjoying the panoramic sight.

Atakan stopped to study the elegant capitals topping the support columns. “Excellent stonework,” he said with is archaeologist’s eye for detail.

She leaned over the railing to people watch. Below her, guides led their clusters of tourists to the apse, famous for its golden mosaics and from there to different quiet corners of the basilica to point out the highlights.

“Charlotte, turn around. Smile.” Atakan played with the camera in his phone for a few seconds then snapped a photo. “I’ll be right back. I want one of the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe.”

She continued to people watch from her birds-eyes view. A lone man in a baseball cap walked up the main aisle. He wore sunglasses in spite of the overcast April sky. He kept his hands in the pockets of his bomber jacket and looked straight ahead, showing no interest in the stain-glass windows or other architectural features.

She turned her attention to the constant stream of worshipers who took seats on pews away from the tour groups. Some knelt and prayed, others sat with eyes closed, their hands folded, and listened to the nuns singing.

A large group of tourists and the lone male approached the chancel, directly below Charlotte. The man stepped aside to allow the guide and her charges to pass. Then, he removed his cap and glasses, looked up at Charlotte, and smiled.

The past terror she’d buried and fought to forget returned with a vengeance. Rocked, she sucked in a fear driven gasp and reflexively jerked back.

She shook off the panic. Angry with herself for the way she reacted and pissed the bastard still had that effect. She peered over the rail again. Maybe she was wrong.

She wasn’t. The same brush-cut hair, the same dimpled smile as he kept his eyes on her, the handsome Slavic face was forever etched in her memory…the face of the man who’d kidnapped and tortured her.

Heart pounding, she spun, dashed to where Atakan snapped pictures and grabbed his arm. “Quick, Tischenko is here.”

“Charlotte—” He followed as she raced down the twisting staircase. Visitors coming from the other direction flattened themselves to the wall, out of her way and his.

When they reached the main floor, Atakan pushed past her and blocked her path. He held her by the upper arms. “Charlotte, stop for a moment. Where did you see him?”

She tried to pull away. “Here—he was walking down the center aisle,” she stressed, searching the faces in the crowd of visitors.

Tischenko was gone.

“I tell you, I saw him.”

Atakan continued to hold onto her as he scanned the aisles and pews. “I don’t see anyone resembling him, let alone the man himself.”

“He must’ve realized we’d chase after him. Come on, he can’t have gone far.” She broke from Atakan and hurried along the aisle with the fewest tourists and out the doors.

She hesitated on the portico. The ever-present musician buskers with their open instrument cases and people resting from the long climb littered the stairs.

Her eyes darted from one person to the next. “He’s wearing a black leather jacket and ball cap. He’s not here. Which way do you think he went?” she asked, turning to Atakan. “Maybe the metro—Abbesses is the closest stop.”

“If I were running from a wild woman, I wouldn’t risk getting caught at a station waiting for a train.”

“I bet he ran through the gardens toward Place Saint-Pierre.” She glanced at her watch. “Almost noon. The square will be swarming with families and lunchtime diners, easy to blend in and get lost.”

She threaded her way through the crowd toward Saint-Pierre. Ahead, a fair-haired man, in a black leather jacket walked at a brisk pace by the merry-go-round playing a tinny version of the Star Wars Theme. Jogging faster, Charlotte caught up to him and yanked on his arm.

The man looked momentarily stunned.

Not Tischenko.

“Pardon monsieur,” Atakan apologized and took Charlotte aside. “Enough!”

“I—”

“Enough.”

“I’d swear—”

“It was not him at the church.”

She hadn’t thought of Tischenko in months. How likely was it for her to imagine seeing him? But if it was him, he did a great job of vaporizing.

She laid her head on Atakan’s shoulder for a long moment. He rubbed her back along the spine until the adrenaline rush passed and she calmed.

“You’re hungry,” she said at last, hearing his stomach rumble. “Le Barouder is charming and nearby.”

“No. We’re not eating anywhere in Montmartre. I don’t want to be in the middle of my food and have to chase after you because you think you’ve seen Tischenko again. We’ll find a café by the hotel.”

“Pretend for a minute, I’m right. It’s—”

If it’s true, his presence here is a coincidence.”

“You don’t believe in coincidence.”

“In this case, I do.” Atakan bent and brushed her lips with a light kiss. “So intelligent and lovely, a pity you are crazy.”

“That’s what makes life with me exciting,” she said, with feigned, wide-eyed innocence.

“I’m not sure exciting is the right word.”

Still uneasy, Charlotte scanned the crowd one last time.

Across the square, Maksym Tischenko stepped from the rear of the crepe vendor’s stall. Atakan and the Dashiell woman returned the way they came. Maksym took side streets that didn’t intersect with the one Atakan and Dashiell were on. At the main avenue, he hailed a cab and instructed the driver to take him to Hotel Du Danube, where the couple was staying.

 

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Talking with Gabriel Valjan, author of Wasp’s Nest

My guest today is Gabriel Valjan, author of the Roma series, published by Winter Goose Publishing. The first book, Roma, Underground, came out earlier this year. The sequel, Wasp’s Nest, was just released this week. The third installment is scheduled for August 2013.

Valjan attended the University of Southern California for his undergraduate education and completed graduate school in England at the University of Leeds. Ronan Bennett short-listed him for the 2010 Fish Short Story Prize. Valjan’s short stories continue to appear in print and online literary journals. He recently won ZOUCH Magazine’s inaugural Lit Bits Contest. He lives in New England.

Find the author on the web: Website/blog / Winter Goose Publishing Author’s page / Pinterest for Wasp’s Nest

Wasp’s Nest is available on Amazon Paperback / Barnes & Noble Paperback / Kindle / Nook

Read my review of Wasp’s Nest on The Dark Phantom Review.

Thanks for this interview. Tell us a little about what got you into writing?

Like most things in my life the road was not always obvious or straight. I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a writer. As a child I read voraciously, so I was quite awed, quite intimidated, by the great talents on the bookshelves at my local library. I began with a lot of self-doubt about my ability to sustain an idea, create multidimensional characters, and capture the tics of dialogue. I knew what I enjoyed in literature, understood to some degree how it all worked. I was convinced (still am) that nobody could teach the idea that starts a short story, a novel, or a poem. When I had set aside the initial excuses and insecurities, I discovered that I was having fun and I had stories within me.

What was your inspiration for Wasp’s Nest?

After I wrote the first in the series, Roma, Underground, I knew that I had created my cast of characters. Two things happened then: one, I wanted to see how each of my characters would grow and evolve, interact with each other, the world around them, and bond emotionally; and two, I wanted to take my own sense of ‘what if’ thinking and create situations and see how my characters would negotiate them. I believe what makes my characters interesting is that they each of them has their own ‘issues,’ as we all do in life, but mixed in it all is a cultural collision of American and European. In Wasp’s Nest, the ‘what if’ has to do with cancer research and technology. What if someone had a way of detecting cancer at the level of DNA and prevent cancer from occurring without chemotherapy, radiation, and disfiguring surgeries? Since the majority of us will die either from heart disease or some form of cancer, there is that ‘what if.’ And then there is the ‘what if’ in Wasp’s Nest of the threat a potential cure poses to those industries that profit from chronic illness. I don’t suggest that ‘what if’ is a pure either/or. Dance with the angel of a cure, but don’t forget that the Devil was also once an angel.

For those readers who haven’t read this or the first book yet, what is the blurb of the series as a whole and how many instalments are you planning?

I haven’t committed to an exact number, but I had planned six novels. The overall arc of the series is watching friends learn how to love and trust each other, learn how to move within a morally compromised world. The main character Alabaster (or Bianca if you prefer her alias) is difficult to know, extremely intelligent, and dichotomous at times in her thinking. She sees things others do not, yet she struggles with intimacy and trusting another person. Dante, her boyfriend, is a nice guy, a little too patient with her at times. Farrugia is a stoical investigator with an edge to him. His peer Gennaro is a widower who has never forgiven himself for causing his wife’s death. Alessandro has brains but picks the wrong women. Then there is Silvio, the ambitious and humorous interpreter. In Wasp’s Nest, readers will be introduced to Diego Clemente, a garrulous, very Boston character. Throughout the Roma Series I try to infuse authentic Italian culture and food.

In this novel, you dive into the controversial world of biotechnology, genetics, and pharmaceutical companies. Is the theory about wasps, the methyl toolkit, and their connection to cancer in your story a real thing?

The Nasonia wasp is real. There are three species indigenous to the U.S. and a fourth was indeed discovered in Brewertown, New York. In the novel I mentioned Mendelian genetics, which should return readers to basic biology. I try to keep it simple. I address the reason why this wasp was selected and why the fruit fly is an imperfect model. The reader will discover that the Nasonia wasp is no pleasant creature, but what I said about its genetics is true; it is easy to study, easy to manipulate, but the ‘what if’ is that current research in Nasonia is devoted to the development of pesticides. The concept of the methyl toolkit is real. The ‘what if’ I propose is pointed at oncology. I don’t think that it is misleading to say that we all have the potential for cancer. Women with a familial predisposition to cancer, for example, can be tested for the BRCA1 and HER2 genes for ovarian and breast cancers, respectively. A while back, the actress Christina Applegate tested positive for the BRCA1 gene, which was unexpressed, but she opted for a double mastectomy as a pre-emptive strike. This is an example where technology exists and the ethical debates begin. While some sophisticated ideas do exist in Wasp’s Nest, I tried to not make them inaccessible. I believe readers are intelligent and seek intellectual engagement while they enjoy a story.

How much research did the book required?

I always do a great amount of research, but I hope that what I decide to include is articulate and not beyond the grasp of the reader, or so implausible that it is science fiction. I research technology online and in technical libraries. While I don’t have a Ph.D, I’ve retained a working vocabulary from my scientific education. With the methyl toolkit I did speak with an immunologist and instructor who researches cancer and teaches at the graduate level. While I was remiss in thanking him in the Acknowledgements I had him in mind when I introduce readers to Portuguese food in Wasp’s Nest.  I should also mention that another form of research necessary to the Roma Series is cultural in nature. Two of my friends act as my editors. Dean proofreads all my work; and Claudio does the ‘cultural editing.’ Both men are far more knowledgeable in Italian than I. Claudio is a native speaker, a linguist, a journalist and a professional translator, with northern and southern Italian culture in his veins. While I can read Italian with respectable facility, only the native speaker can give you the authentic phrases and turns of phrase. This ‘cultural editing’ was crucial to the third novel, out in August 2013, since it deals with a volatile part of recent Italian history, with an unfortunate American connection.

I love the title, which of course suits the story well because it works on two levels. Did you come up with it right away or did you have to brainstorm?

I knew the title from the start. I had wanted to create a story in Boston. The title does work on many levels. It alludes to the insect, the Bostonian stereotype of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, and the colloquial expression of getting into a mess, although I think the proper phrase has to do with a ‘hornet’s nest.’ One of the particular joys with Wasp’s Nest was working with Winter Goose in designing the cover art. I should point out that the wasp on the cover is not a Nasonia critter, but a yellow jacket wasp.

How long did it take you to write the novel and did you plot in advance?

I wrote Wasp’s Nest in four to six weeks, BUT I spent longer editing and shaping it before I submitted it to Winter Goose, where it underwent more editing with James Logan. Fellow Winter Goose authors Jessica Kristie and Sherry Foley provided me with invaluable feedback and suggestions before James touched the manuscript. Jessica is a poet so her contribution around imagery was helpful. Sherry is the author of two Winter Goose thrillers: A Captive Heart and Switched in Death. She taught me other “suspense tricks.” I can’t emphasize how helpful they were for both Wasp’s Nest and for me as a writer. In terms of plotting, I knew where I was going with this novel. It did feel at times like “seat of your pants” writing, but I advocate getting the story down on paper and then editing afterwards.

What made you decide to make your main character a woman? Has this been challenging? If yes, in what way?

The genesis for the Alabaster character came from a dare. I was talking to a work colleague whom I’ve known for over ten years. Margaret knew that I was writing short stories at the time so she suggested that I try my hand at writing a female character.  The result was a short story entitled “Alabaster.” Yes, it is challenging to write out of gender and I would add that it is also difficult to write from a child’s perspective. I have a deep respect for children’s authors since they have to modulate story and vocabulary to their audience. I don’t think writing from a female point of view is insurmountable. Research can get you the answers. The skill is in transforming the knowledge into believable action and dialogue.

In Book I, it was Rome. Now, it is Boston. In both novels your locations are fleshed out in vivid detail. How important is a sense of location in a story?

In the Roma series I try to make the location a character. We can take our environments for granted. Wasp’s Nest takes place in Boston, the third, fourth, and fifth novels take place in Milan, Naples, and Boston. Cities change all the time: think of Whitman’s Manhattan and New Jersey, T.S. Eliot’s London, and Baudelaire’s Paris. The modern metropolis provides a remarkable backdrop to our individual and social conflicts and pleasures.

How do you keep up with what’s out there in terms of spy gadget technology?

I hope readers don’t think that they are getting Jane Bond. John le Carré Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy proved that spy-craft is a slow game of chess. As I mentioned earlier, I read a lot so I read the geek articles whenever I find them, rummage in the libraries when an idea takes root, but in terms of gadgetry I think I use a remarkable device called the ‘intelligent brain,’ and it happens to belong to a woman.

As it’s the case with book I, there’s a lot of marvellous food description in Wasp’s Nest

Starving is not an option in Italy. How could you not love the food and the attitude of La Dolce Vita?

If you could narrow down the three main elements of a good spy story, what would they be?

Ambiguity. Misdirection. Movement. A story has to move; the pages have to turn. Ambiguity in character and motivation is true to life. Human beings are not selfless creatures; that is why I think altruism is a virtue. One of the joys of a good mystery is watching intelligent people being intelligent.  This is damned difficult to write, since your protagonist has to be smart enough to spot something that neither the other characters nor your readers can see, even though it’s right in front of them.

You also write poetry and short stories, having published many in literary journals. What do you find more enjoyable: working in a poem, a short story or a novel?

Each has its appeal. Poetry is a house with all the necessary language; and by its nature, not often natural language. The short story is an airplane with a short runway and flight is imminent or the plane crashes. The novel is an endurance race, where there are miles to go, numerous paths to take, but you have only so much water and food: use them wisely. For me poetry is intimate and personal. While I enjoy the short-fiction format, I have noticed that what was once acceptable – twenty to fifty pages is now impractical, with most stories clocking in at 5,000 words. Flash or micro fiction is challenging. Is it a story or a vignette? I’ve only had one flash-fiction piece published; it was a 111-word story that I did for a contest for ZOUCH Magazine.

Congratulations on winning first prize in ZOUCH Magazine’s Lit Bit contest. Can you tell us about it?

I was searching for the “calls for submission” web pages and I saw page after page of requests for flash fiction. I felt dismayed but then I thought: What can I tell in a short, SHORT piece? I wrote one sentence that told a hero’s journey. The brevity of the form drew upon my experience in writing poetry.

What’s on the horizon for you?

I’m almost done writing the fifth book in the Roma Series. I’m trying to find a publisher for a three-volume noir series that I have written. It has two main characters, an American and a British woman, who are part of the American intelligence community. The novel starts in Vienna and continues in McCarthy-era Los Angeles and New York, highlighting the time, the mores, and the dark rivalry between the CIA and FBI.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with my readers?

Write because you love to write. No matter how great you think the writing is, please have someone edit it for you. Respect your reader and try to understand that not everyone will like you, that criticism, while an opinion, is an opportunity for improvement. If you find a writer that you like then write a balanced review on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Goodreads. Last but not least – thank you for reading.

This interview originally appeared in Blogcritics

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Guest Blogger Lauren Carr: Ten Things About Lovers in Crime Mysteries You May Not Know

Ten Things About Lauren Carr’s Lovers in Crime Mysteries You May Not Know

By Lauren Carr, author of ‘Dead on Ice’

1)     The Lovers in Crime Mysteries take place in Chester, West Virginia, which is a real small town in the most northern point of West Virginia. In the Northern Panhandle, if you go a mile in any direction, you end up in another state (Pennsylvania or Ohio).

2)     Lauren Carr grew up in Chester, West Virginia. Many members of her family still live there.

Dead on Ice sm3)     Joshua Thornton’s stone house on Rock Spring Boulevard is a real three-story stone house that Lauren used to dream about living in when she grew up in Chester, West Virginia.

4)     Rock Spring Boulevard is a fictional street in Chester. Lauren Carr changed the name because she didn’t want people driving by and bothering the real homeowners.

5)     Irving, Cameron Gates’ cat, is based on Duchess, a Maine Coon that Lauren Carr used to have. Duchess was the reverse of a skunk, all white with a black stripe down her back. Irving is marked like a skunk, all black with a white stripe down his back.

6)     The real Hancock County prosecuting attorney’s office is located in the corner of an abandoned school house across the street from the courthouse, which is where Lauren Carr has placed Joshua’s office. Though now, with up to date technology, Joshua usually works remotely from his home.

7)     Cameron and Joshua’s passion for ice cream is based on Lauren’s own addiction. She has an ice cream sundae every night before going to bed.

8)     Cameron never gains a pound in spite of what or how much she eats—unlike Lauren Carr.

9)     Joshua and Cameron’s “place”, favorite hang-out, Cricksters, is a real retro diner located in Chester, West Virginia. The Home of the Pink Cadillac is located at 2363 Lincoln Highway. Lauren loves to visit there when she is in town.

10) The next Lovers in Crime Mystery, Real Murder, was inspired by a dream Lauren had while recovering from a concussion, which she got when she fell off a horse. Real Murder will be coming this Spring and is dedicated to Peter Pan, the horse Lauren fell off of.

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Lauren Carr fell in love with mysteries when her mother read Perry Mason to her at bedtime.

Lauren CarrLauren is also the author of the Mac Faraday Mysteries, which takes place in Deep Creek Lake, Maryland. The first two books in her series, It’s Murder, My Son and Old Loves Die Hard have been getting rave reviews from readers and reviewers. Lauren’s fifth mystery, Shades of Murder has been receiving rave reviews since its release.

Lauren’s sixth book, Dead on Ice, has just been released. Dead on Ice introduces a new series entitled Lovers in Crime, in which Joshua Thornton will join forces with homicide detective Cameron Gates.

The owner of Acorn Book Services, Lauren is also a publishing manager, consultant, editor, cover and layout designer, and marketing agent for independent authors. This spring, two books written by independent authors will be released through the management of Acorn Book Services.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She also passes on what she has learned in her years of writing and publishing by conducting workshops and teaching in community education classes.

She lives with her husband, son, and two dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Visit her websites at www.acornbookservices.com and www.mysterylady.net.

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