Lucia and Mapp, Two Stories:

Lucia and Mapp, Two Stories ($2.99, ISBN: 978-1-60381-104-0) collects two new Lucia and Mapp adventures by Tom Holt; “Lucia and the Eighth Commandment” and “Humble Soup”.

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“Lucia and the Eighth Commandment”: Peacetime it may be, but not in England’s quaint town of Tilling, whose residents can count on the ongoing and quite entertaining battle for social ascendancy between Elizabeth Mapp-Flint and Lucia Pillson. When at his wife’s request, Lucia’s husband Georgie borrows Elizabeth’s purportedly valuable and possibly signed edition of The Poetical Works of Alfred, Lord Tennyson, he counts on the bibulous Major Benjy to relay the message to his wife. Benjy’s failure to carry out his mission sets off the Great Burglary Scare, sparking more excitement than Tilling has seen in some time.

“Humble Soup”: What has dampened the fighting spirit of Elizabeth Mapp-Flint, inexplicably cowed by her rival, Lucia Pillson? Fellow Tillingites are horrified when Lucia proposes raising funds for a new Church Hall roof by staging a series of tableaux vivants. Their entire social circle has been impressed into service. Elizabeth has always been counted on to keep Lucia’s worst instincts in check, yet this time that august lady is mum. Now Elizabeth is grimly practicing her choreography and her husband the Major has been compelled to don a frighteningly lifelike donkey’s head. How will the balance of power be restored?

Author Tom Holt is the only novelist sanctioned by the estate of E.F. Benson to write the further adventures of Lucia and Mapp.

Tom Holt was born in 1961 in London, England. His first book, ‘Poems By Tom Holt’, was published when he was twelve years old. While he was still a student at Oxford he wrote two sequels to E F Benson’s Lucia series. After an undistinguished seven-year stint as a lawyer, he became a full-time writer in 1995 and has published over thirty novels. Tom lives with his wife and daughter in the west of England. As well as writing, he raises pigs and pedigree Dexter cattle. For more information, visit his website here.

Keep reading for an interview with the author:

Q: When and how did you first discover the E.F. Benson series?
I think I was 16 or 17 when my mother (a lifelong fan) decided I was ready for Lucia. As far as I was concerned, it was love at first sight.

Q: Can you tell us the story of how you came to be the one designated to write these books? Did you approach the author’s estate, or did they approach you?

I started writing ‘Lucia in Wartime’ as fan fiction, not long after I started at university, simply because my mother and her Luciaphil friend Sylvia had always wanted to know how Lucia coped with life in WW2. I sort of meandered aimlessly through writing the first half, doing a page here and a page there as the spirit moved me, until the day came when (through shameless nepotism and intrigue) my half-a-manuscript landed on the desk of an editor at Macmillan, who intimated that if I cared to finish the book, he might care to publish it. I wrote the second half very, very quickly indeed, before he changed his mind (the last chapter on Christmas Eve, as I recall, in bed with flu.) It was only after the book had been written and accepted that it occurred to someone that the Lucia books were still in copyright, and the copyright holders might have something to say about the matter. However, in the event they were very reasonable about it all. I rather suspect that this may have been due to the influence of an old school friend, who was working for the estate’s literary agents at the time; but I haven’t spoken to her since, so can’t verify. I hope it’s true. I’d like to think my start in the literary world has been entirely due to nepotism and intrigue (see above).

Q: What special qualifications did you have—knowledge of the classical references, language ability, quirky sense of humor?

I think I rather overdid the classical references – I was at Oxford studying Classics at the time, and that sort of kids you into thinking that classical references are cool. Really, though, the only special qualification I can claim was having been immersed in Benson, constantly re-reading the books (finish the last one, immediately start again with the first) ever since I was first introduced to them. Also, I think it helped that I’d never tried to write a novel before, so I didn’t have an established voice of my own to overcome.

Q: Every small community must have a Lucia or an Elizabeth, don’t you think? Have you met women who made you think, “Ah! Here we have Lucia in the Flesh.”

Never a Lucia; but I’ve met several Miss Mapps, one or two Quaint Irenes, a fistful of Divas and a few Mrs. Wyses, and one truly outstanding Georgie. Lucia, however, remains elusive. She has that exceptional vitality that elevates her to the heroic level, in spite of her appalling character traits, which – fortunately – you don’t tend to encounter in people you meet in the street.

Q: Would you have enjoyed being a resident of Tilling and a member of Lucia’s circle? The men—particularly the husbands of Lucia and Elizabeth—don’t get much respect.

Neither do I, so that’s all right. I think I’d enjoy the warfare and the intrigue, and I quite enjoy a game of bridge, but I’m not sure how I’d cope with the musical evenings. Even the Moonlight Sonata would lose its charm eventually.

Q: Have you ever considered adding another book to the series? I keep imagining what Lucia would make of present-day England. She would not enjoy it, I think.

Lucia and me both. Yes, one day I’d dearly love to write another sequel, if only I could be sure I could still catch the voice. Borrowing Benson’s style was a bit like borrowing someone’s Ferrari; it was a joy to drive around in it for a while, reveling in its beauty and power, but after a bit all I could think of was the danger of scratching the paint or denting a fender, so that at the end I was relieved to hand it back more or less undamaged. I’m not sure I’d have the nerve to drive it again.

Q: What are some of the most interesting reactions to these books you have received? There must be some fans who view Lucia and Elizabeth almost as real people and have very particular ideas about the way they should behave.

The reaction I expected and dreaded was; who is this presumptuous upstart? So far I haven’t encountered it (although these reprints offer an opportunity to a whole new generation of readers); I’m ever so grateful to the readers who’ve told me that I didn’t disgrace the name of Benson. That’s probably the highest praise to which I could ever aspire.

Let These Bones Live Again, by David Carlson: Investigating Murder and Theft in Venice

Let These Bones Live Again ($14.95, 190 pages, 6×9 Trade Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-60381-393-8) by David Carlson is a mystery / thriller, and the third book in the Christopher Worthy / Father Fortis Mystery Series. Allyson Worthy and her renowned detective father, Christopher Worthy, investigate the apparent suicides of two wealthy Americans in Venice. Meanwhile, Father Nicholas Fortis looks into the recent theft of relics from Venetian churches. An unexpected breakthrough reveals a dark undercurrent in the city just as Allyson is unexpectedly put in danger.

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“As with the other two entries in this series, the homicide detective and the Orthodox priest form an unusual investigative team that, combined with the setting, make Let These Bones Live Again an intriguing mystery and an entertaining thriller.”—NY Journal of Books

“Fans of Donna Leon will find a good reason to visit Venice again, this time with David Carlson as a guide. Let These Bones Live Again brings together ancient religious rites, dying patients and a youthful protagonist in a compelling, dark mystery.” –Michael Niemann, author of the Valentin Vermeulen series

“David Carlson puts a novel twist on the challenges of ‘East meeting West,’ placing Let These Bones Live Again in a contemporary setting that will appeal to American readers. His blend of police procedure, modern religious differences and medieval practice, cyber crime, deft prose, and the thorough knowledge and skillful use of Venice as the setting and backdrop makes for a winning combination and enjoyable read.” —Bill Rapp, author of the Cold War Thriller series

“Powerful portraits of strong characters finding love through trust and forgiveness, amid all the sights and scents of modern day Venice–a masked lady who gives up her secrets begrudgingly. All this and a crackling plot with many an unexpected twist. Though this is the first Worthy/Fortis mystery I have read, it will not be the last.” —Michael Sears, author of Saving Jason

“David Carlson weaves a masterful story within an Italian setting. A detective father from Detroit and his daughter are thrown together in the most unorthodox fashion to solve a homicide along the canals and architecture of Venice, which he describes beautifully. The reader will bite their nails as unexpected twists and turns escalate the plot into high gear, leading to an unexpected ending.”  —Marie Romero Cash, author of the Jemimah Hodge mystery series

Allyson Worthy, daughter of the renowned homicide detective Christopher Worthy always dreamt of living in Venice. Now, as a college student, she’s landed a dream internship with the Venice police. She assumes she will be investigating minor crimes perpetrated on gullible American and English tourists. On the first day of her internship, however, Allyson is assigned to assist with a more bizarre case—the apparent suicides of two wealthy Americans in the city. Linking the two persons are their similar cancer diagnoses and strange incisions on their bodies.

The family of the second victim, a Detroit automaker, doubts the suicide verdict and hire Christopher Worthy to look into the death. Allyson’s relationship with her father is tenuous, and she resents his intrusion into her dream summer.

After speaking at a conference in Rome, Father Nicholas Fortis is asked by the Vatican to look into the recent theft of relics, bones of saints, from Venetian churches. Father Fortis is happy to offer whatever advice he can to the case Christopher and Allyson Worthy are working on, even as the two Worthys are happy to advise Father Fortis on the stolen relics case.

An unexpected breakthrough reveals a dark undercurrent in the city of canals that changes approaches to both cases. As clues fall into place, Allyson is unexpectedly put in danger as she unknowingly agrees to rendezvous with the killer.

Book 3 in the Christopher Worthy / Father Fortis Mystery Series.

David Carlson has a BA in political science from Wheaton College (Illinois), an M.A. from the American Baptist Seminary of the West (Biblical Theology) and a doctorate from the University of Aberdeen, Scotland (New Testament Studies). Franklin College, a traditional liberal arts college in central Indiana, has been his home for the past thirty-eight years. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Dom Philip looked down at this plate. With his fork, he dragged the few remaining pieces of linguini together, but then seemed to lose interest.

“I have a confession to make, Father Fortis,” he said, pausing for a moment before adding, “Maybe the best way of explaining what I mean is to say that the Vatican is picking up the check for our meal.”

“Then by all means, let’s order another bottle of this Frascati,” Father Fortis said. “From what I hear, we won’t come close to breaking the bank. The Vatican bank, that is.”

The smile left Dom Philip’s well-worn face as he wiped his mouth with some finality and folded the napkin before him. “Father Fortis, the Vatican would very much appreciate your looking into some nasty business in Venice.”

Father Fortis laid the piece of bread down. “You will have to explain, my friend.”

“There have been at least three break-ins at Venetian churches in the last five weeks. By itself, that isn’t unusual. Venice is peppered with smaller churches, and the security at them as elsewhere in Italy is quite inadequate. But there are two features of these burglaries that are very troubling. And I must warn you. Some of what I am going to tell you is already common knowledge, while some is strictly confidential. Do you understand?”

Father Fortis’ thoughts were spinning. To visit Venice before returning to his Ohio monastery was always part of his plans. He promised his close friend Lt. Christopher Worthy that he would visit his daughter Allyson, who was beginning an internship in that city. In addition, he knew Venice to be the most Byzantine of the Italian cities and suspected that he would never again have such a chance to see the treasures of the famous city.

“I have no problem keeping confidences,” Father Fortis replied. “But I still don’t see how I can be of help.”

“What is very soon to be common knowledge, if it isn’t already, is that the objects targeted by the thief or thieves are not works of art or even altar pieces, even though some are gold, silver, or encrusted with precious jewels. No, what was taken in each case is hard to understand. I am talking about relics, Father.”

“Relics? But why?” Father Fortis asked.

“That’s exactly what the police are wondering. The reliquaries that hold the relics—many of the reliquaries are gold or silver, some encrusted with precious stones of some considerable value—have been left open. Missing are pieces of bones.”

“Important relics?”

Dom Philip shook his head. “Certainly not the relics of St. Mark from San Marco. But relics of early Christian saints, all, and perhaps this is important, from the Christian East. A foot bone of St. Lucia would be the most prized.”

Father Fortis took more than a sip of the wine and considered what Dom Philip was saying. The stealing of relics was a major activity in the Middle Ages, as was the false “finding” and selling of relics associated with famous saints. But in a secular age that found holiness to be far less important than success, relics became, at best, curiosities for tourists.

Dom Philips leaned forward and lowered his voice. “So now I will share the confidential part. This comes from what I shall call a friend in the Venice police.”

“A friend of the Vatican, you mean.”

Dom Philip nodded. “Scandals of late have certainly hurt the Holy See, but we still know how to gather information.”

Father Fortis imagined that the Vatican has about as many “friends” around the world as the CIA.

Wherever You Are, by Cynthia Lim: A Memoir of Love, Marriage, and Brain Injury

Wherever You Are ($16.95, 240 pages, 5×8 Trade Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-60381-721-9), by Cynthia Lim, is a memoir about the responsibilities of caregiving, redefining life with disability, and discovering the real truth of love and marriage.

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“If you’re a caregiver for someone who has life changing health issues, or know a caregiver, grab this book. With depth and brutal honesty, Cynthia Lim shares her journey and hard-won lessons about life after her husband’s heart attack and resulting brain injury. In this beautifully written memoir she learns gratitude (without a hint of sentimentality) for what is left–‘Enough of his essence remained so that his silent companionship anchored me, provided me with reminders of what was most important in life.’ She also learned how to reach out beyond her own grief to accept support and help. Ultimately this is a love story; a marriage and a family that has held fast in spite of overwhelming challenges.”
–Barbara Abercrombie, author of A Year of Writing Dangerously and Kicking in the Wall

“I can’t get this story out of my head. It haunts me. It makes me wonder, Would I be that brave? That strong? That full of joy?”
–Jennie Nash, Founder and Chief Creative Officer,

“For anyone who has been dealt one of life’s unexpected blows, Cynthia Lim’s memoir, Wherever You Are is a heartwarming reminder of love, commitment, marriage and how to make your way forward after the unimaginable. Lim’s honest prose and compelling story of her husband’s sudden cardiac arrest and resulting brain injury, is a wonderful account of all of the emotions, heartbreak, acceptance and ultimately small joys that come with a ‘slowed down life.’ As life moves forward for all of us, the lesson is to continually accept the new shape of our lives.”
–Lee Woodruff, author of In An Instant: A Family’s Journey of Love and Healing

Wherever You Are by Cynthia Lim, answers the question ‘What makes a life worth living?’ When Lim’s young husband suffers a crippling brain injury, she feels at first like a widow whose husband isn’t dead. Where is the man she married? Over time she and her teenage sons deal with the stark reality of the challenges of her husband’s disability. Just as they had adventured as a family on sea and into the wilderness, they learn to navigate the world of disability. A beautifully written love story by a courageous woman who finds the capacity to experience joy and love in the face of devastating loss.”
–Maureen Murdock, author of Unreliable Truth: On Memoir and Memory

Cynthia Lim thought she had the perfect life: a husband who was a successful attorney, a fulfilling career in education, two teenage sons in private school, and a home in Los Angeles rich in books, music, and art. Then in 2003, her husband Perry suffers a cardiac arrest and brain injury, lingering in a coma for ten days before slowly awakening. A different person emerges, one who has lost his short-term memory and is fully dependent on others. Married for twenty years, she doesn’t know how much of his former self will return as she fights for the treatment and care he needs.

She struggles with caregiving and working full-time while finding connection with the man she once knew and loved, whose brain will never again function as it did before. While wrestling with the urge to leave him in an institution and walk away, she discovers the strength and resolve that will allow her to build a new life. Wherever You Are is the story of a marriage after a spouse is forever changed by a catastrophic event. It is a story of redefining life with disability and discovering the real truth of love and marriage.

Cynthia Lim lives in Los Angeles with her husband. She is retired from Los Angeles Unified School District and holds a doctorate in social welfare. Her essays have appeared in various publications including Hawai’i Pacific Review, Gemini Magazine, Hobart, and Witness Magazine. For more information, look here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

In a quiet moment alone with my mother, she sat next to me and said, “I know the pain that you are going through. I have lived through all kinds of pain, too. I know what it feels like, a thousand needles jabbing you at one time. You will get through this.”

Her words soothed me. We were united in our shared tragedy, the loss of husbands, of lives cut short abruptly. I felt more connected to my mother than I ever had before.

“I know how tired you are, how hard it feels to face each day. I know what it feels like. But you need to take care of yourself. You are shouldering so much responsibility. Just remember to take care of yourself first because you can’t help others if you don’t,” she continued.
I understood so many things about my mother in that moment. I had spent so much of my life not wanting to be like her but now I understood. What seemed selfish to me as a child I now saw as her drive for self-preservation, for assuring that her needs were met first. I understood her neediness, her desire to stockpile groceries, to have everything in place, so that in times of crisis when the world seemed scary and unknown, there would be this semblance of order. Her cupboards, her pantry, her house, her children were the only things that she could control.

“You need to stay strong for Perry and for Zack and Paul,” said my mother.

“Yes, I know,” I said. She didn’t realize that she had been preparing me for this role since I was seven.

Where Privacy Dies, by Priscilla Paton: Deadly Secrets Come to Light

Where Privacy Dies ($15.95, 252 pages, 6×9 Trade paperback, ISBN: 978-1-60381-665-6), is the first book in a cozy mystery series by Priscilla Paton. When the photo of a little girl is found on an executive’s corpse, Detective Erik Jansson and his new partner, Detective Deb Metzger, delve into a world of lying informants and deadly secrets in order to uncover the truth about the girl’s identity.

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“Priscilla Paton adds a fresh voice to the mystery scene with Where Privacy Dies. Paton delivers lively descriptions, and has an ear for dialogue that works well defining her characters. I loved the interactions, and verbal volleyball, between the unlikely G-Met partners, Detectives Erik Jansson and Deb Metzger. From the discovery of a well-dressed man’s body in a wetland, to the unsavory dealings of people in high places, she kept me reading, trying to figure out who was really in the bad guys’ corner.” —Christine Husom, National Best-selling Author of the Snow Globe Shop Mysteries, and the Winnebago County Mysteries

“Fans of SJ Rozan and Deborah Crombie are going to love the mismatched crime fighters at the center of this masterful and timely debut novel; Priscilla Paton tells their story with confidence, style and cunning.” —David Housewright, Edgar Award–winning author of Like To Die

An executive’s corpse is discovered in a Minneapolis wetland, and with it the photo of a girl. Is she unconscious or dead? Detective Erik Jansson takes on the investigation and is mismatched with a new partner, the imposing Detective Deb Metzger. They soon learn that the murdered man worked for a reputation management firm that serves wealthy clients. Other employees from the firm have also vanished, but information is withheld from the detectives by a corporate cover-up.

Erik and Deb pursue promising leads about the identity of the photo girl. When these leads take them to a down-and-out family and a Northwoods cabin, they seem to be dead-ends—or are they?

Despite informants who lie, the online targeting of another girl, and threats to their own safety, Erik and Deb delve deeper. The story becomes stranger and more unsavory as intensely private and deadly secrets come to light.

Book One in A Twin Cities Mystery series.

Priscilla Paton grew up on a dairy farm in Maine. She received a B.A. from Bowdoin College and a Ph.D. in English Literature from Boston College. A former college professor, she has taught in Kansas, Texas, Florida, Ohio, and Minnesota.  She has previously published a children’s book, Howard and the Sitter Surprise, and a book on Robert Frost and Andrew Wyeth, Abandoned New England. She married into the Midwest and lives with her husband in Northfield, Minnesota. When not writing, she participates in community advocacy and literacy programs, takes photos of birds, and contemplates (fictional) murder. For more information, go here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Death is private. A person can die in front of a video camera, collapse in a massacre, pass surrounded by family, yet only one being crosses that final line of consciousness. Solitude follows, a remembered saying—the grave’s a fine and private place.

It was Detective Erik Jansson’s duty to violate that privacy and it weighed on him as he knelt by the crude dirt mound covered with branches. The mound, in the flood zone of the Minnesota River, had been obscured by the scrub of the wildlife refuge. The perfect place for final rest. Perfect and perfectly wrong.

The ascending roar of a silver and red plane leaving the nearby Minneapolis/ St. Paul airport disrupted Erik’s contemplation. He lost the train of dark thoughts he’d summoned to shut out the temptation of the sunny morning to run and kayak and breathe. A gorgeous morning, the second Sunday in April. The landscape was greening, and robins threw outsized energy into their chirrupy defense of territory. Erik pushed a hand through his dark hair to discharge his own energy, but restlessness will out. What had happened? Who dumped a body so unlovingly? Why? Was there more bad to come? There usually was.

He studied the mound again, and the tweed-sleeved elbow uncovered to confirm the find of the cadaver dogs. Then he straightened to stretch his long legs and rub his arms, the morning being brisk for his department fleece. Waiting on the bank above him were the  discoverers of the scene, an odd-sock trio—a boy about twelve in a stained jacket with a dirt-bike quite authentically dirty, and a retired couple outfitted as khaki twins with binoculars clutched to their chests. Behind them stood a uniformed officer. Erik looked past the group toward the refuge entry to trace possible routes to this spot. You could hike down the steep trail behind the airport hotels, as the couple had probably done. An unpaved road for bikes and service vehicles took a less dramatic downhill path to merge with the broad trail where the marsh grasses began. Then the trail ran along backwater banks lined with cottonwoods, alders, maples, and oaks. A four-wheel drive vehicle could navigate that route easily. From trailside, it’s a six-foot drop down to the narrow flood zone where Erik stood by the mound. Easier to prepare that grave if more than one person had been hurrying the body along on its journey.

Criminal Misdeeds, by Randee Green: A Detective Investigates her Checkered Family

Criminal Misdeeds ($15.95, 280 pages, 6×9 Trade Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-60381-709-7) is the first book in a mystery series by Randee Green. When Detective Carrie Shatner finds a dead body after her family’s get-together, it’s up to her to prove that none of her criminally inclined relatives are the killer.

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As far back as the Shatners can be traced, they have been breaking the law and running from it. It’s a family tradition. Now Carrie Shatner is a detective and crime-scene technician with the Wyatt County Sheriff’s Department in Eastern Texas. Over the years, she has tried to distance herself from her family’s criminal activities. But that is easier said than done.

The Shatner family is celebrating New Year’s Eve at the Wyatt County Fairgrounds in their usual style: illegal fireworks, homemade moonshine, and a near brawl. After shutting down the party, Carrie does a final sweep of the fairgrounds and finds a dead body in a dumpster.

Good news: the dead man is not a Shatner. Bad news: the Shatners are now suspects in a homicide investigation. Soon the fairgrounds are overrun with law enforcement, including Sergeant Jerrod Hardy, a Texas Ranger. The victim is Kyle Vance, Carrie’s ex-boyfriend and a member of the Palmer family, who have been feuding with the Shatners since the Civil War.

Despite serious misgivings, Hardy allows Carrie to help him investigate. He knows she physically couldn’t have beaten Vance to death, but he wonders if she is covering for a family member.

Book 1 in the Carrie Shatner Mysteries.

Randee Green’s passion for reading began in grade school with Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder. She has a bachelor’s degree in English Literature, as well as a master’s and an MFA in Creative Writing. When not writing, she’s usually reading, indulging in her passion for Texas country music, traveling, or hanging out with her favorite feline friend, Mr. Snookums G. Cat. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

I come from a long line of criminals.

Moonshiners, rumrunners, and drug dealers. Horse thieves and carjackers. Bank robbers, burglars, pickpockets, and con artists. And then
there has been the occasional killer. You name it, whether it’s a felony or a misdemeanor, somewhere along the line a member of my family has committed it.

As far back as the Shatner family could be traced—from southern England to the mountains of western North Carolina, and now to the Piney Woods of East Texas—we had been breaking the law. And running from it, too.

It was a family tradition.

You see, the Shatners have never swum in the baby pool of life. We’ve always been out in the deep end, and we jumped in headfirst.
As for me, every day I fight my genetic predisposition to break the law. Some days I’ve been more successful than others. You see, I can’t break the law when I’m the one who is supposed to be upholding it.

My name is Carrie Shatner, and for the last three-and-a-half years I have worked as a detective and crime scene technician for the Wyatt County Sheriff ’s Department in East Texas. That would put my Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice from Sam Houston State University to good use except there wasn’t a whole heck of a lot of serious crime in Wyatt County. I mainly sat behind my desk all day, twiddling my thumbs, playing Sudoku, and keeping up with my various social media accounts.

While my official job was to process crime scenes and deal with all parts of criminal investigations, my unofficial job was to cover up my family’s illegal activities and keep them out of jail. I’d be the first to admit that what I have been doing wasn’t ethical. It was probably also criminal. I tried not to think about that too much. To be honest, I tried not to think about any of it too much. Most days I felt like quitting my job. Family obligation prevented that.

I’m not saying that all of the Shatners have been hardened criminals. Sure, most of the older ones were. But at least some of the younger ones shied away from the family business and seemed to be sticking to the straight and narrow. And they were the reason why I do what I do. Yes, I clean up the crimes of the guilty. But I do it to protect the innocent.

These days, the laws my various family members break have been fairly minor ones. Okay, some were still kind of major. But it was nothing compared to what we used to engage in. I mean, I’m pretty sure we were no longer involved in contract killing or organized crime.

What I did know was that my great-uncles had a moonshine still out in the woods and a marijuana crop concealed in a bunch of old Cold War bomb shelters. Every time I caught one of my family members selling the homebrew or the pot, they would promise me it was the last time. I didn’t believe them. I didn’t arrest them either, because I knew it wouldn’t stop them. It would also infuriate the rest of the family. And, while tempting, that wasn’t a risk I was quite willing to take. At least not yet.

Occasionally, one of the younger Shatners would steal a car or deface some public property or get busted for underage drinking. The older Shatners were always getting nabbed for public indecency and public intoxication. Some of them were also heavily involved in insurance scams. And then there had been the occasional assault. But we hadn’t killed anyone—accidently or on purpose—in years. Or, if someone had, I didn’t know about it.

When you got down to it, the majority of the bad things that the Shatners have done were just plain dumb. And, as far as I knew, being stupid wasn’t illegal. We would have been in serious trouble otherwise.

I don’t want you to go into this thinking that all of the Shatners were bad people. Most of them have just been a little misguided.

At least that’s what I kept telling myself.

Until I found the body.

The Dutton Girl, by Stan Freeman: A 1915 Detective Uncovers New York City Secrets

The Dutton Girl ($16.95, 304 pages, 6×9 Trade paperback, ISBN: 978-1-60681-766-0), is a cozy mystery by Stan Freeman. In winter of 1915, John Nolan is learning the ropes as a detective, underpaid and missing his fiancee in Ireland. His status improves when a rich man hires him to investigate the kidnapping of his daughter and the theft of her jewels. The case will test John’s PI instincts, put his life in danger, and teach him valuable lessons about human nature.

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“[John Nolan has] the quiet, self-possessed demeanor of a star detective with an understated talent for his craft and an appealing habit for being right when others are wrong. His slow, methodical investigation is fun to witness […] Competently crafted, with a bevy of suspicious characters and a pleasing variety of bum leads […] However, the most compelling aspect of the book is not who took a spoiled heiress or even Nolan himself, but, rather, how rich, poor, and working-class New Yorkers lived and interacted in the World War I era.” —Manhattan Book Review

“Deftly entertaining … Certain to be an immediate and popular addition to both the personal reading list of dedicated mystery buffs and community library Mystery/Suspense collections.” –Midwest Book Review

“A classic Whodunit… The author does a fantastic job at intertwining historical facts though this story… Progresses at a steady pace, giving just the right amount of clues and action to keep you entertained… Interesting and believable.” Read more…
–Reader Views

In January, 1915, John Nolan’s life is in a shambles. A recent immigrant from Ireland, he wants nothing more than to bring his fiancée over too, but he is only a poorly paid private detective living in New York City in a tenement flat without water or a bathroom.

When the daughter of a wealthy real estate developer is kidnapped from her Manhattan apartment, the police are baffled. A $50,000 ransom demand puts the girl’s father in fear for her life, so he hires Nolan in hopes that he can find her quickly.

Early in his investigation, Nolan realizes the missing girl’s family members are the main suspects. Her father gave her a small fortune in jewelry to avoid losing the pieces in court when he divorced her mother. Everyone in the family needs money, and they all knew where she kept the jewels hidden in her apartment.

The case will bring Nolan up against police corruption, the Black Hand, and racist stevedores on the waterfront. And before he uncovers the truth, he must survive a biplane pursuit, a gun battle in the Tenderloin, and finally a deadly chase on the tracks beneath Grand Central Terminal.

Book 1 in a new detective series featuring John Nolan.

Says Freeman, “At some point, I discovered the New York Times archives, which date back to before the Civil War, and became fascinated by reading through them. The historical details and information are so rich in these archives that I decided to exploit them and write a period novel.”

Stan Freeman is a former newspaper reporter whose articles have appeared in more than two dozen publications, including the San Francisco Chronicle, the Seattle Times, the Houston Chronicle, the New Orleans Times-Picayune and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. For many years, he was the science and environmental writer for the Springfield Union-News and Sunday Republican in Massachusetts. He studied fiction writing in the MFA program at University of Massachusetts. In 2014, he wrote and produced a science fiction feature film, The God Question, that won several awards at film festivals, including best feature film in its category at the Burbank International Film Festival. He has also published several guides to the natural history of individual states in the Northeast. He grew up in Huntington, N.Y., and attended Cornell University. Currently, he lives in western Massachusetts. For more information, look here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

By five o’clock, exhausted by sitting and reading, Nolan left the library, resolving to walk as far uptown as he could for the exercise before catching a trolley home.

However, with cold winds whipping through the canyons of Fifth Avenue, he got only as far as St. Patrick’s Cathedral on 51st Street. Having never seen the inside of the great gothic edifice, and hearing a pipe organ playing, he found an open door, went in, and took a seat in a back pew of the nearly empty sanctuary to warm himself. Golden light streamed through the high, stained-glass windows as the chancel organ played.

Nolan had no love for the Catholic church. His first memories of priests were of beatings in school, so he had formed a lifelong distrust of them. At the same time, he grudgingly recognized that the church had a place in his life.

Religion in his own life was simple. It was God’s will that he come to America. And it was God’s will that he marry Sheenagh Casey. He knew nothing more of God’s will than that. It was manifest in the persistence with which he felt these two things.

In his daily life, he drew on his own instincts and conscience for what was right and wrong, not on any knowledge of the Bible or on the questionable advice of the priests in his life. And with no immediate family in New York to goad him to attend church, he had been to Sunday Mass infrequently since arriving—and not once in the past six months.

He first heard of America from his uncles, sitting with them in parlors and taverns in Ireland as they traded stories. Probably, he realized now, they had heard them when they were young and sitting with their uncles. He believed few had actually been to America.

“Jobs so plentiful you have a choice of a dozen …. Rose up from nothing to become …. No thought of being Catholic or Protestant or even Hindu. You’re an American only ….”

He finally decided to go to America when his impoverished family was forced to move in the fall of 1913. His father had worked on and off as a traveling man for a sugar company. The home in which the Nolan family had lived for thirty years was leased, and the landlord, facing his own financial calamity, served writs of ejectment on all his properties in order to sell them. His parents moved to small rented rooms nearby. He bought a ticket to America.

In Nolan’s year in New York, he had suffered as many deprivations as he ever had in Ireland. The reality of New York was far from the expectation of it. For weeks before he made the crossing, he and Sheenagh had written out plans and budgets and then alternate plans and budgets, should this or that go wrong.

Little had gone as expected. Jobs in America were fewer than promised—and more demeaning—and salaries were lower. The insults suffered for being Catholic and poor in Ireland were replaced by insults for being Irish and poor in the States.

Yet, stepping away from it all, he could see their goals were slowly being met. He was able to put some money in the bank each week, and they were closer to Sheenagh’s arrival and their marriage each week.

Perhaps that was the dream of America. God placed in your mind an exaggerated view of how good life there could be in order to convince you to want it and work for it. True, the reality would undoubtedly turn out to be less grand than expected. However—also true, he hoped—the reality would still be well worth the effort.

Warmed enough to feel a renewed resolve to reach home, he rose to leave but then sat back down in the pew. A realization had come over him. This kidnapping. He suddenly felt the importance of it in his life. The police were unable to solve it. The family was depending on him to solve it. And the poor girl might lose her life if he did not solve it. A challenge, was it not? A personal challenge. Should he save the girl and return her to her family, he might make the name he needed to succeed in America.

Although paid as a detective, he had not truly felt like one until that moment.


Thirty Years a Dresser, by Dennis Milam Bensie: Backstage Stories Come to the Spotlight

Thirty Years a Dresser ($17.95, 216 pages, 9×6 Trade Paperback, ISBN:  978-1-60381-751-6) is a new memoir by Dennis Milam Bensie, sharing essays, anecdotes, and backstage antics from his years as a theatrical dresser.

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“The author writes in such a way that you feel you are backstage with him experiencing all he is and does. He is honest, funny and sometimes cutting. Thirty Years A Dresser by Dennis Milam Bensie is a fresh piece to read without the usual sex, drugs and violence. I recommend this read to all who want an inside peek into what goes on backstage with our favorite theatrical shows.”
—Reader Views

Thirty Years A Dresser is more than a memoir of behind the scenes. It is an insightful glance of what happens back stage during the run of some of the greatest shows of the theatre. With more than (the proclaimed) thirty years of experience of being a dresser, Mr. Dennis Milam Bensie’s account is an enjoyable tour-de-force that will educate as well as entertain the reader.” Read more…
—Eric Andrews-Katz for Equality365

“Bensie’s memoir covers his career backstage with humor, heart, and hope, spotlighting the famed and the wanna-be with equal admiration and/or scorn. Full of juicy anecdotes and keen insight into both stagecraft and bitchcraft, this peek behind the curtains is sure to delight the seasoned theatre-goer as well as the dilettante.”
—Jerry Wheeler, author of the Lammy-nominated Strawberries and Other Erotic Fruit

“A fun romp behind the scenes of long theatrical career. Dennis Bensie has fresh new insight into the second oldest profession–the theatre.”
—Eric Andrews-Katz, author of Tartarus

“The best seat in the house isn’t Orchestra Center, it’s backstage with Dennis Milam Bensie. Thirty Years a Dresser shares many unique behind the scenes moments and fun perspectives and even the most ardent theatre goer will be envious. Whether watching the evolution of a hit (The Light at the Piazza) or imagining an androgynous casting while dressing nuns for the umpteenth time (The Sound of Music), Bensie lets the reader peek behind the curtain. What a fun read!”
—Rebecca Redshaw, Author/Playwright

Thirty Years a Dresser provides plenty of laughs from the spurting blood vest in “Agnes of God” to the two hundred costumes required for “The Grapes of Wrath,” and Bensie writes about it all with equal parts love and loathing. Most memoirs I’ve read are at least partially self-serving, but Bensie’s stands out as self-deprecating instead.… He never takes himself too seriously–his craft and his subject, yes, but never himself.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book and if you have even a passing interest in the theatre, either on or off stage, you owe it to yourself to pick this up and devour it in one or two sittings, as I did. Highly recommended.” Read more…
—Jerry L. Wheeler for Out in Print: Queer Book Reviews

Dennis Milam Bensie sees himself as way more Thelma Ritter in Mankiewicz’s All About Eve than Tom Courtney in Ronald Harwood’s harrowing play and movie, The Dresser. Watching The Tony Awards as a teenager in the early 1980s, Bensie knew he wanted to be in theater. He was his own dresser for plays in high school when he learned a career as an actor wasn’t for him. Costumes became his calling, at first in summer stock and gradually with union houses, wherever he could find work. A theatrical dresser is expected to be a nurse, psychologist, tailor, personal shopper, magician, bodyguard, maid, scout, and confidant.

Thirty Years a Dresser is Bensie’s third memoir, after Shorn: Toys to Men and One Gay American. His stories involve behind-the-scenes dish and drama during a wide range of productions: from MetamorphosesThe Light in the PiazzaRomy and Michele’s High School Reunion–The Musical to The Sound of Music (three times). The author’s backstage stories feature such stars as Lynn Redgrave, Rosie O’Donnell, Freddy Kruger’s mother, and a Tony Award winner who shall remain nameless.

Dennis Milam Bensie grew up in Robinson, Illinois where his interest in the arts began in high school participating in various community theatre productions. He has costumed and wigged shows all over the country, including Oregon Shakespeare Festival, PlayMakers Repertory Theatre in Chapel Hill, NC, Alliance Theatre of Atlanta, Arizona Theatre Company, Actor’s Theatre of Louisville, and the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. His costume and wig design for Valley of the Dolls at Empty Space Theatre in Seattle garnered him a feature article in Entertainment Design Magazine and a Seattle Times Footlight Award for Best Design. He has been on staff at Intiman Theatre in Seattle since 1992 and is proud to have been involved with such productions as Angels in America, Nickel and Dimed and the world premier of the Tony Award winning musical Light in the Piazza. Shorn: Toys to Men is his first book. Dennis lives in Seattle with his three dogs. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for more

We were rapidly whipping though the summer season. George M closed and we quickly moved on to Carousel, which would give me my very first backstage-mishap story.

One of the clam diggers doubled as a dancing bear during the dream ballet of Carousel. The big bear head would rest on his shoulders and tie under his armpits. The actor couldn’t get the head on or off by himself and his vision with the bear head on was poor. The suit was heavy fur, so only a dance belt  was worn under his bear costume. I would have to catch the bear as he exited stage right, unzip his bear bodysuit, and untie the laces under his arms to lift the bear head off. He had to change back into a clam digger pretty quickly.

A stage manager whispered in my ear during the dream ballet, “There’s an emergency stage left. Celia’s dress zipper is broken. You need to go help her.”

I was still sewing Celia into her dress stage left when the bear came off, stage right, looking for me. By the time I got to him, Mr. Bear/clam-digger had managed to get his bear body off by himself. But I found the sweaty actor in a complete panic. He was maniacally spinning, trying to untie the strings under his arms. I could hear his muffled yelps through the bear head. The bear (wearing only his head and his dance belt) almost made his way onstage in view of the audience. I guided him back into the wings and removed his head.

The bear/clam-digger thanked me, changed clothes, and went on with his show. The company and I laughed our asses off later that night, drinking at the pub.

Yes, drinking. I celebrated my twenty-first birthday that summer. My professional life was just beginning—and I could finally legally drink.


What I hadn’t fully learned that summer was that being a dresser is way more than getting the actors dressed. Being a theatrical dresser means being a nurse, a psychologist, a tailor, a personal shopper, a magician, a bodyguard, a maid, a scout, and a confidant.

Now, so many years later, I make my living as a theatrical dresser.

I’ve never … not done theater.

I’ve kept a list of every show I’ve ever worked on.

I saved all the programs.

I will be a theatrical dresser until I retire.

To quote Rizzo in Grease, “There are worse things I could do.”

The Songs We Hide: Music Brings Hope in Post-War Hungary

The Songs We Hide ($16.95, 356 pages, 6×9 Trade Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-60381-631-1), is a work of historical fiction by Connie Hampton Connally. In communist Hungary, a peasant loses his land, a young mother loses her baby’s father, and both are scared into silence—until music brings them together to face the agonizing tests ahead.

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“This is a haunting, character-driven novel with a simple plot, despite the dramatic events occurring in the background. […] I was impressed with the depth and scope of Connally’s research. She has captured not only the turbulent political climate of post-WWII Hungary but also the essence of Hungarian culture. Highly recommended.” Read More…
—Historical Novel Society

“Connally’s exploration of Mátyás Rákosi’s Hungary is both thorough and heart-breaking. She does a remarkable job of portraying emotion and the reader feels everything her characters do, from the constant fear of being arrested or blacklisted to the small moments of joy they are afforded by music and family.” Read More…
—Reader Views

In 1951, a grim hush has settled over Hungary. After a lost war and a brutal transition to communism, the people live under constant threat of blacklisting, property confiscation, arrest, imprisonment, and worse. In this milieu of dread, the best land of Péter Benedek’s peasant family is seized and his life upended. Moving to Budapest for a manual labor job, Péter meets Katalin Varga, an unwed mother whose baby’s father has vanished, most likely at the hands of the secret police. Both Péter and Katalin keep their heads down and their mouths clamped shut, because silence is the only safety they know.

The two have something in common besides fear: they are singers whose very natures make the silence unbearable. When Katalin starts giving Péter voice lessons, they take an intrepid step out of hiding by making music together. Little by little they tell each other what they cannot tell others. In their bond of trust, they find relief and unexpected happiness.

Yet the hurts and threats in their lives remain, waiting. As harsh reality assaults them again, is hope even possible? Facing their hardest trials yet, Péter and Katalin learn to carve dignity and beauty out of pain.

Writes the author, “My interest in Hungary’s turbulent history grew out of my love of music. Through music I discovered the story of Zoltán Kodály, a twentieth-century Hungarian composer who spread music in his nation despite totalitarianism and two world wars. Kodály’s example gripped me. What would it be like to offer beauty in a milieu of crushing fear? I began researching Hungary. In its tense national narrative and the poignant stories of its people, The Songs We Hide took root.”

Connie Hampton Connally holds a BA in English from the University of Washington and an MFA in creative writing from Antioch University. She’s published magazine stories and newspaper articles, worked as an editor, and taught high school English and elementary music. Ms. Connally and her husband make their home in Tacoma, Washington. For more information, go here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

Tuesday evening as Katalin came home with Mari on her hip, she was heading along the second-floor balcony when she heard someone call her name. Looking over the railing into the courtyard, she saw Péter Benedek standing beside a dirt patch where two short green rows had sprouted. He lifted his cap to her. She would have simply waved and walked on, except that he was regarding her worriedly, and after glancing around, he beckoned. She carried Mari down the back stairs and joined him. Above, the early evening sky misted a cold gray.

“Is something wrong?” she asked.

He gripped the handle of a hoe. “Katalin … eh … Antal said … maybe you could help me sing? Lessons?”

“I don’t know why Antal told you that. I’ve never taught singers before.”

“But would you? I mean … please?”

She had never known Péter to look directly at her for longer than half a second; now it seemed those hazel eyes behind the wire glasses would stare at her until next October if it took her that long to answer.

“I would pay,” he said.

Katalin thought his worried look deepened. She could not imagine that Péter, coming from Lord-knows-where in the country, had any money to spare.

“How would you ever practice?” she asked. “Where?”

“I don’t know, maybe in the cellar.”

“It isn’t private.”

“I know.”

“And voice lessons can be embarrassing. You have to make ridiculous sounds, buzz your lips, sing nonsense. And I can’t promise that my family won’t hear you. And the neighbors. And do you smoke? If you want to be a good singer, you can’t smoke. My mother has been saying that all my life.”

“All right. I won’t smoke.”

Mari was clinging to Katalin’s arm and regarding Péter as though he were a great mystery. And maybe he was. Katalin could not understand how this quiet fellow could be coaxed to sing loud enough for anyone to hear him.

“You don’t really want to do this, do you?” she asked.

“But yes.”


He shifted the hoe to his other hand, and his answer was slow to come. “Some days … many days … singing is the only pleasure, you know? And also … Antal said sometimes music works even if talking doesn’t. Or something like that.”

Maybe it was Antal who had said it, but it sounded so much like Róbert. Katalin was going to tell Péter that this just wouldn’t be possible, she didn’t have time, she wasn’t a teacher. But when she looked at him again, none of those words would come.

She relented. “We could start Thursday night.”

He squinted a little, broke a smile, almost laughed. “Good!”

“As for pay,” she said, “when you go home, if you find something that’s hard to get in Budapest, bring it. We’re always running out of soap. Where is home, by the way?”

He took a step back, looked away. “I will try to find some soap,” was his only reply.

Illegal Holdings, by Michael Niemann: Graft and Greed in Mozambique

Illegal Holdings ($14.95, 240 pages, 6×9 Trade Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-60381-591-8) is the third book in a series featuring United Nations fraud investigator Valentin Vermeulen. After a $5 million transfer in UN funds goes missing in Mozambique, Vermeulen discovers a deep vein of corruption involving land deals.

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“Up against a wall of deceitfulness and threats from hired assassins, a veteran investigator follows the money in a dangerous case of high-stakes duplicity…. the third case for Niemann’s hero, a slick sleuth in the 007 mold, deepens the portrait of contemporary Africa through its detailed descriptions of Mozambique and its culture.” Read more…

—Kirkus Reviews

“Niemann’s well-plotted third Valentin Vermeulen thriller (after 2017’s Illicit Trade) takes the U.N. investigator with a penchant for getting into trouble to Maputo, Mozambique, where he looks into a fraud case…. Niemann provides interesting insights into U.N. bureaucracy, developing countries, and global economics as he demonstrates once again the difference that an honest man can make.” Read more…

—Publishers Weekly

“Illegal Holdings is an intriguing suspense that keeps one engaged, with an intricately woven web of a plot that will keep the reader guessing. Valentin Vermeulen is a flawed character that some may find interesting. Vermeulen is nicely complemented by great supporting roles that add delectable depth to the story.” Read more…

—InD’Tale Magazine

UN fraud investigator Valentin Vermeulen is on assignment in Maputo, Mozambique. His ho-hum task is to see if Global Alternatives is spending UN money the way they promised. The nonprofit was set up by hedge fund mogul Vincent Portallis to revolutionize development aid. The only upside for Vermeulen is the prospect of seeing his lover Tessa Bishonga, who is reporting on foreign land acquisitions in Africa.

When Vermeulen notices that a five-million-dollar transfer has gone missing, he is given the run-around. First he is told the files have been mislaid, then stolen, then he is assured that the money was never transferred to begin with. But the money was transferred, so where is it now? Vermeulen’s dogged pursuit of the missing transfer makes him the target of some ruthless operators. And once he meets up with Tessa, she is inevitably sucked in to the story as well, which turns out to be far more nefarious than either of them imagined. Now they are both in deadly danger.

Says Niemann, “Development aid is rarely about helping the poor. The interests of donors, be they governments, nonprofits or private interests, usually set the agenda. Mozambique is but one example. Illegal Holdings is, of course, fictional, but sadly, the reality not all that different.”

Michael Niemann grew up in a small town in Germany, ten kilometers from the Dutch border. Crossing that border often at a young age sparked in him a curiosity about the larger world. He studied political science at the Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms Universität in Bonn and international studies at the University of Denver. During his academic career he focused his work on southern Africa and frequently spent time in the region. For more information, go to:

Keep reading for an excerpt:

The restaurant could have been any truck stop anywhere in the world. Two shelves next to the cash register held more varieties of potato chips than Vermeulen knew existed. There were peanuts, too. A rack with yellowed road maps and cheap sunglasses. A rattling cooler displayed refrescos and domestic beer.

The rest of the counter was part of the restaurant. Against the back wall stood a large griddle, operated by a woman who was wider than tall. Anyone expecting an array of Mozambican cuisine would be disappointed. A picture menu offered hamburgers, chicken burgers, fried chicken, and toasted cheese sandwiches.

Billy Ray and Antonio ordered hamburgers. Tessa went to the toilet, and Vermeulen couldn’t make up his mind. What to eat when all choices are poor? He settled on a toasted cheese sandwich with tomatoes and went to use the facilities himself.

The restaurant had seen better days. The tables were wobbly and the chairs creaky. About half of the tables were taken, and the patrons gave the newcomers a quick glance before going back to their meals. Vermeulen sat down with the rest and ate his sandwich. Tessa munched on a bag of peanuts and drank a Coke. Vermeulen was tempted by the beer but decided against it. On a warm day like this, he’d just fall asleep in the car.

“What other project do you want to show us?” Vermeulen said between bites.

“It’s back the way we came, on the other side of the bridge,” Billy Ray said.

“I’d like to speak with a few of the farmers here,” Tessa said.

Billy Ray wiped some grease from his mouth. “I figured you would. It’ll take some time to set up, though. I didn’t know you were coming until last night. No time. But I’m sure we can arrange something for later. How long are you in Beira?”

“I have a week.”

“Hmm. That’s tight. You journalists need to spend time on the ground. Not just swoop in and out.”

“Believe me, I’d love to spend a month here, but nobody would pay my bills. So a week it is. I’d appreciate any help you can give me.”

“Sure. We’ll see what we can set up. Maybe there’ll be someone at the next stop.”

Billy Ray popped the last bite of hamburger into his mouth and pursed his lips.

“Pretty damn close to the worst burger I ever ate,” he said. “And I’ve had some doozies.”

They finished their meals, got back into the car, and drove back the way they’d come. As they reached the bridge, Vermeulen’s phone rang. It was Chipende.

“Sorry for leaving you yesterday. I got an urgent call from KillBill and had to meet with him. Did someone in the office answer a wrong number call?”

“You didn’t call when we agreed.”

“No, that’s when the kid called. It took a while to sort that out. I think I was about fifteen minutes late. A man answered. Did you see who?”

“Yes, I did. I’ll tell you later. What was the emergency?” Vermeulen said.

“Raul called the gang together for another job. This time it’s out of town. They drove off in their blue vans. I have no idea where they went. The kid can’t call me because they aren’t supposed to know he’s got a phone.”

“And you don’t know what the job is?”

“No, but it can’t be good. Probably roughing someone up. I’m on my way to Tica to warn the farmers. I have a bad feeling.”

“We’ve just left Tica,” Vermeulen said.

“You did? What were you doing there?”

Vermeulen turned and said in a low voice, “Getting a tour of the new project.”

“Global Alternatives?”


There was a long pause.

The Land Rover reached the bridge. From the corner of his eye, Vermeulen saw the glint of a vehicle through the bushes lining the approach to the bridge. He couldn’t tell its shape or color. The Land Rover started across the bridge. Vermeulen looked ahead through the windshield. Something moved across the road at the other end of the bridge. As they got closer, Billy Ray slowed more. A vehicle blocked the bridge. Vermeulen looked back. Behind them another vehicle rolled across the road.

“I found your blue vans,” Vermeulen said to Chipende and ended the call.

DEROS, by John A. Vanek: a Deadly Homecoming

DEROS ($16.95, 304 pages, 5×8 Trade Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-60381-619-9) is the first book in a mystery/suspense series by John A. Vanek set in Oberlin, Ohio, and featuring amateur detective Father Jake Austin. A series of murders force Father Jake Austin to confront his own violent past, regrets over lost love, and his doubts about the priesthood.

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“This intense debut introduces a complex narrator, an introspective Vietnam vet who still struggles three decades later with his anger and losses stemming from the war. Vanek’s bittersweet novel will appeal to admirers of Julia Spencer-Fleming’s clerical mysteries.” —Lesa Holstine for Library Journal

“Fr. Jake Austin, the hero of Vanek’s promising debut and series launch, returns to his hometown of Oberlin, Ohio, in 2002 to take up a temporary post at a Catholic hospital in nearby Lorain—an assignment that coincides with his high school class’s 30th reunion. [….] Full of conflicting emotions, Jake has a lot to cope with in a mystery that’s as much a character study as a whodunit. The title is an acronym for Date of Expected Return from Overseas—the relevance of which isn’t immediately obvious. Readers will look forward to seeing more of Jake.” Read more….

Publishers Weekly

“The mystery itself is well conceived and executed and the several central characters nicely drawn…. I say, ‘Hurrah!’ I always have room to read another good series.” Read more….

—Dana Borse, for Reviewing the Evidence

“Interesting, nuanced characters in a finely wrought setting.”

—Laura Lippman, New York Times bestselling author of Wilde Lake and the award-winning Tess Monaghan series

“Father Jake Austin is a spiritual man, but he is as flawed and filled with contradictions as anyone. John Vanek guides the reader through the seldom-seen worlds of both medicine and the priesthood. His years as a physician at a Catholic hospital make him the perfect creator of this literary mystery set in a small college town, but few physicians can manage prose as well as Vanek does.”

—Sterling Watson, author of Suitcase City and Fighting in the Shade

“A riveting tale of mystery and murder. Superb storytelling with a deft touch by this talented author who keeps ratcheting up the tension until the explosive ending. A fast read, but the characters linger in your memory.” —Ann O’Farrell, author of the Norah’s Children Trilogy

“John Vanek brings small-town Oberlin, Ohio, to life. Locals will recognize familiar people, places, and threads of Oberlin history woven throughout the story as Father Jake Austin reconnects with his past and gets caught in a web of deadly vendettas.”

—Liz Schultz, Executive Director of the Oberlin Heritage Center

When Father Jake Austin is assigned to his hometown of Oberlin, Ohio, in July of 2002, he has been away for a long time. A physician and a war veteran before entering a Catholic seminary, he is now a member of the Camillian Order. He takes comfort in his vows of obedience, poverty, chastity, and service to the sick.

Jake arrives just in time to attend his high school reunion, where an encounter with his high school sweetheart forces him to question his commitment to the priesthood. Before the night is over, one of his classmates will be dead, a second gravely wounded, and a third hospitalized. The carnage at the reunion comes on the heels of what appears to be an unrelated murder at the quarry. Overseeing the investigation is Jake’s former football teammate, Chief of Police Tremont “Tree” Macon, who is unwilling to rule out anyone as a suspect, not even Jake. As he struggles to prove his innocence and to find his footing in a town that remembers him as a hellion, Jake searches for threads that will connect these brutal attacks.

The war may be long past, but in some ways Jake is still waiting for his DEROS: Date of Expected Return from Overseas. Can he put aside his own demons long enough to find the living, breathing devil who stalks his classmates?

Says Dr. Vanek, “I practiced medicine at the real St. Joseph Hospital in Lorain, Ohio until it closed its doors in 1997. Father Jake Austin is a fictional character, but aspects of his personality and struggles are modeled after two Catholic priests who were my close friends and confidants. When I first met them, I expected the usual stereotypes, but when their Roman collars came off and we kicked back with a few beers, I found that they were simply human. Seeing these men wrestle with the same emotions that we all share shattered my stereotypes and preconceived notions about the priesthood. I wanted to portray Father Jake as a spiritual man, but with all of the flaws of any human being.”

John Vanek received his bachelor’s degree from Case Western Reserve University, his medical degree from the University of Rochester, did his internship at University Hospitals of Cleveland, and completed his residency at the Cleveland Clinic. His poetry has won contests and has been published in a variety of literary journals, anthologies, and magazines. John lives in Florida, where he teaches a poetry workshop for seniors. For more information, click here.

Keep reading for an excerpt:

“Jake, my man, you’re here. I’ll have to cancel the APB I put out on you.” He slapped my back and gestured toward the assembled multitude. “Quite a turnout, huh?”

“As crowded as Heaven after a revival meeting.”

“Or Hell after a hooker’s convention.”

Tree’s grin faded and his face hardened to black granite. He downed the brown liquid in his glass, crunched an ice cube, and his eyes wandered across the ballroom.

“Tree, are you okay?”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry,” he said softly. “Been a bitch of a day. I had to tell my wife that a young woman she knows was found murdered at the quarry. The victim loved men, money, and partying. That makes for a lot of suspects. I got a real strong hunch who the doer is, but no hard evidence to back it up. The case is already beginning to feel like a damn dead-end.”

“Maybe CSI will find fingerprints or something.”

“You watch too much TV, Jake. This isn’t the Big Apple. Here, CSI is a box in the trunk of my cruiser. I did call in the Bureau of Criminal Identification for help. They’re a state agency that assists small towns by analyzing DNA and ballistics, loaning forensic techs and equipment, those sorts of things.”

“A murder in little old Oberlin of all places. Unbelievable!”

“Happens, but not often.”

“Is that why you spoke with McDermott today? What does he have to do with it?”

Tree leaned in and lowered his voice even more. “McDermott’s a mean, shit-kicking dumbass, and that’s a dangerous combination. He’s always on my radar. Like my mama used to say, ‘What’s in the well eventually comes up in the bucket.’ ”

We paused as a nearby trio exploded into peals of laughter. Tree draped a heavy arm across my shoulders and guided me to a quiet corner.

“The punk you knew in school, Jake, grew into a greedy, cutthroat businessman. As he did, he seemed to rot from the inside. It’s been scary to watch. The more McDermott’s bank account grew, the lower he sank as a human being. Or maybe it was the other way around.” He chomped the last ice fragment and gazed into his empty glass as if it were a crystal ball. “The dead woman at the quarry worked for him. Rumor has it, he was humping her. That’s why I had a heart-to-heart with him today.”

“To the best of my knowledge, there’s never been a saint named Everett, and the guy we know will never have a feast day, but that doesn’t make him a killer.”

“True, but guess where we found the dead woman’s missing car?”

“No idea.”

“Dumped in a gully, not far from McDermott’s place. It’s all circumstantial, but he lawyered up quick. I plan to spend the week turning his life inside out, then I’m gonna crawl up his ass and pitch a tent till I can nail him.” Tree grimaced, set his glass down, and massaged his temples. The spinning, mirrored ceiling globe imparted a subtle twinkle to his shaved head. “Or maybe I’ll get lucky and have a stroke before I have to deal with him.” He laughed without a trace of humor, then added, “Enough shop-talk. Let’s get us a drink.”

He strode to the bar and flagged down the bartender.

“Jack Daniel’s on the rocks for me. What’ll it be, Jake? I’m buying.”

After the day I’d had, I felt like I could have chugged an entire Mason jar of Mr. Daniel’s fine Tennessee whiskey. I’d just walked into my turbulent past, however, and it was prudent to remain in control until I got the lay of the land and a handle on my own emotions. Prudence was a virtue I’d acquired out of necessity over the years after taking my lumps at the School of Hard Knocks.

“Ah … a ginger ale, thanks.”

“I hear the Shirley Temples are really tasty and come with tiny paper umbrellas.” Tree peered down from his six-foot-six-inch vantage point. “Back in the day, your beverage of choice was anything short of rubbing alcohol. This a priest thing? Your collar’s off now, Father. Relax.”

“It has more to do with my class prophecy, ‘Most likely to get a drunk and disorderly.’ ” I shrugged. “I used up my quota of both after the war, so I take it easy now. I’ll grab a drink with dinner.”

“Okay. That’s probably a good thing, because you were a handful back in school when you were on the sauce. Booze flared up your temper like gasoline on a bonfire. I sure as hell don’t want you in my drunk tank tonight.” Tree frowned and his eyebrows moved down and in, narrowing his eyes to slits. “Anything else I should know about you?”

“Plenty, but some other time. Let’s mingle.”

We squeezed through a gauntlet of humanity past the hors d’oeuvres table. Although the Bee Gees recommended “Stayin’ Alive,” definitely sensible advice, the aroma of fried cholesterol drew folks to the bacon-wrapped shrimp like moths to a flame.

Tree was on a mission, glad-handing and backslapping his way to job security. While he commanded the spotlight, smiling and chatting up the crowd, I lurked in his shadow, watching an eerie 35 mm-filmstrip version of my 1970s life.

We met couples who had been married so many years that they’d begun to look alike, more than a few divorcées, and the occasional trophy wife showcased in designer clothing and sparkling jewelry. If one or two of these wealthy folks belonged to my parish, the church collection basket would runneth over.

The redheads in the room drew my attention. I half expected to see the woman who’d dashed from the confessional. The ladies in the ballroom, however, were decidedly older, stockier, and probably bottle-red.

As Frankie Valli insisted that we were all too darn good to be true, Tree guided me through a haze of perfume, across the raised dance floor, and toward a table.

“Let’s park it awhile, Jake.”

As we neared, I recognized Emily immediately. My chest tightened and my knees turned to Jell-O.