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Category Archives: Mystery

Grace Doll by Jennifer Laurens

Grace DollGrace Doll by Jennifer Laurens
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved that Grace Doll opened in a 1949 Hollywood setting. The glamour of celebrities at the time seems haunting as you look back and was a perfect background for this haunting story.
Grace Doll is at the height of her star power and overwhelmingly unhappy. The opening hints at something more than a jaded starlet and gives the reader a palpable sense of darkness in Grace’s thoughts as she and her Producer/Husband enter Grauman’s Chinese Theater for her new movie.
Grace is performing from the beginning; smile, wave, shine, sizzle. Inside she is in obvious torment and I was anxious to learn why.
Rufus B. Solomon is propelling Grace through the hysterical crowd of fans and paparazzi, while looking like her protector, he pulls and pushes at her, controlling her physical movement with a dashing smile and an order not heard by anyone but Grace. “Sizzle, darling. Sizzle.” The scene is decidedly creepy. A glimpse of wrongness in the glitz of a Hollywood movie premier and you feel it in your gut.
Having discovered the young, 13yr old Grace on a boardwalk with her family, Rufus easily convinces her parents to make a deal with the devil. Promising riches and fame if they allow Grace to accompany him to Hollywood. Faking a birth certificate to make Grace appear older, Rufus begins to take complete control of her life in everyday possible eventually making her into the hottest actress of 1949 and his puppet. Abuse, kidnapping, obsession, and murder mark the beginning chapters of Grace Doll and when his obsession with her is at it’s peak, Rufus subjects Grace to an experimental treatment that guarantees her immortal beauty and a way he can control her forever.
As a rescue attempt to free her from Rufus goes horribly wrong Grace is forced to remain in hiding, forever young, for several decades until her secret is discovered and with the help of an old friends grandson resolves to end the nightmare Rufus began 60 years ago.

What an amazing premise. Jennifer Laurens captivates her audience with her brilliant manipulation of emotion and atmosphere. I enjoyed this story and wish I could see it on the big screen.

Book Summary:Grace Doll had everything a girl could want: Fame. Fortune. Beauty.

Everything except, of course, her freedom. So when a powerful movie producer forces an experimental treatment on Grace–one that’s purported to make beauty immortal–she stages her own death to escape him.

With the help of trusted friends, Grace slips into hiding. She’s forever flawless, forever young and forever pursued by her past.

But when a stranger arrives on her doorstep, holding the key to a life she thought she’d left behind, Grace must decide between the safety she’s known… and embracing the role she was born to play.

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Posted by on September 19, 2012 in Fantasy, Mystery, Thriller

 

Exceeding Expectations by Lisa April Smith Book Release and Author Interview!

About Lisa April Smith

Author Lisa April Smith lives with her husband, He-who-wishes-to-remain-anonymous, in EternalPlayland,Florida, a delightful spot just off I-95. Ms. Smith describes Eternal Playland as: “a little piece of level heaven with occasional dampness, where the bugs are plentiful but respectful, and even the smallest strip mall contains at least one pizza place and a nail salon.”

Before discovering a passion for writing, Ms. Smith sold plumbing and heating and antiques, taught ballroom dancing, tutored, modeled, designed software and managed projects for IBM and returned to college multiple times to study anthropology, sociology and computer science, in which she holds degrees, as well as psychology, archeology, literature, history and art. Combine those widely diverse interests with a love of travel and a gift for writing page-turners and it’s easy to understand one reviewer’s unbridled praise for Exceeding Expectations, “She (Ms. Smith) has a brilliance for conveying characters, and the intellectual capacity to place them in historical settings that sparkle with glamorous detail . . . that make it fun to read . . . ” But it takes much more than lush settings, an eye for detail and a love of history to write a page-turner. Read what another reviewer said about Exceeding Expectations: “Lisa April Smith . . . has woven an intriguingly rich tapestry of delightful well-developed characters into a perfectly balanced plot bursting with riveting mystery, crimes of the petty and the horrible sort, suspenseful twists, and romantic tension complete with love scenes that sizzle and pop. . . Clearly, this author has, and wishes to share with her readers, what the French call joie de vivre  – not simply the joy of life – but an all-encompassing appreciation for every facet of life.”

For more about Lisa, her books, and upcoming projects visit her website: http://www.LisaAprilSmith.com.

Lisa April Smith can be contacted at WriteLisa(at)LisaAprilSmith(dot)com

Follow her on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/LisaAprilSmith

Friend her on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/LisaApril.Smith

Today I have the pleasure of hosting Lisa April Smith, here to tell us a little about herself and her newest book, Exceeding Expectations.  Like your first novel, Dangerous Lies, this one is a suspense. Glad you could stop by, Lisa. 

A:  Thank you for inviting me, Tammy. I like to describe my books as, “suspense for intelligent readers who enjoy a little romance to add to the fun.”

                                                                

Q. When you’re not writing, what you enjoy doing to relax?

A. I love travelling – particularly outside the US, which we do when I can convince He-Who-Wishes-To-Remain-Anonymous to cooperate. However, if you’re talking about everyday activities, I read, watch reruns of “30 Rock,” garden, play golf, visit museums, talk on the phone with my kids, volunteer tutor at an afterschool program and do laundry. While most people consider laundry a tedious chore, I find filling and emptying the washer/drier an excellent mindless break. Ironing? Not so much.  

 

Q. Part of Exceeding Expectations is set in Paris. Have you been there?

A. We’ve been to France twice. Loved it! Paris is fabulous. We were warned that the French were difficult, arrogant, anti-American. Except for one prissy Parisian waiter, not the people we met. They pulled out maps and cell-phones when we needed help. and those that didn’t speak English were incredibly tolerant of my limited French.

 

Q. If you could choose one country to return to, which would you chose?

A. Only one? Then it would have to be China. I could have my bags packed tomorrow. We spent three weeks touring and there’s still so much we haven’t seen. It’s a huge, very diversified country with deserts and snow-capped mountains, sophisticated business-centric cities and rural farmland. And because many parts of China haven’t been affected by industrialization you can still find examples of things being done the same way they were done hundreds of years ago. That’s fascinating!

 

Q. Let’s discuss writing! Do you have a schedule or do you work when you’re get the urge?

A. Except when we’re traveling, five to six days a week, I’m at my desk about 7:00 am and quit between 1:00 and 2:00. But whether I’m at my desk or not, I’m never entirely off. Some people call it drive, discipline or dedication. Personally, I think it’s a sign of a compulsive disorder. If I’m on a plane, or driving, or watching reruns of 30 Rock, or shopping for groceries, my brain  involuntarily generates ways for improving the book. Often, when I’m half-asleep, the wildest and best ideas emerge. Do I jump out of bed and tiptoe to my desk? Do I keep a pad and pencil on the night table to record my brilliant epiphany? Nope! I think about it for a while, give myself a virtual pat on the back, and go back to sleep trusting that really great ideas resurface.   

 

Q. Which is more important in your books – the characters or the plot?

A. I start with characters and then develop an intricate but believable plot, that will test my protagonists in fresh ways, while remaining true to their personalities. For example, in Exceeding Expectations, I saw Jack Morgan as a living, breathing, complex person with weaknesses and strengths – likeable conman and devoted father. I fabricated a childhood that could produce those traits. He’s a man unused to compassion or tenderness. The son of a hard-drinking widower, the youngest of four brothers all reluctantly raised by the sole female in the household, his overworked sister. Yet when he sees a newborn he relates to its vulnerability and can’t abandon it.     

 

Q. Now you have me curious. Tell us about the characters in Exceeding Expectations.

A. Frankly, I adore them. There’s the irresistible rascal Jack Morgan – lackluster artist, gifted lover who prefers women older than himself, and utterly devoted father. His daughter Charlotte (Charlie), a self-deprecating 23 year old who is aware that she’s pampered, over-protected and unprepared to do anything besides marrying a member of her elite social class. Raul Francesco, the flirtatious young lawyer, Cuban expatriate, who enjoys teasing Charlie, when he’s not helping her deal with the fallout of her father’s devastating suicide. But I also provide the supporting characters unique and memorable personalities. I don’t want to ruin the surprises that I’ve worked to hard to include by identifying and describing them. Readers will discover them for themselves.  

 

Q. Where do you get your inspiration?

A. My books are generally inspired by media coverage of events and people that I find intriguing. In 1998,Florida television and newspapers were reporting a story of a localPalm Beach socialite (ironically named Fagan) arrested for kidnapping his daughters eighteen years earlier, when they were 2 and 5 years old. The primary reason that it had taken eighteen years to find Fagan was that he had successfully reinvented himself. As William S. Martin, a handsome widower with two young daughters and no apparent means of support, Fagan had met and married a wealthyPalm Beach widow. After their divorce, another affluent woman agreed to wed and maintain his family’s plush lifestyle.

Neighbors, friends and the teachers at the girls’ tony private school all described him as “likeable,” “charming” and “devoted father.” Throughout his arrest and subsequent proceedings, his loyal third wife steadfastly stood by him, as did both daughters. Perhaps what most surprised people who followed the case was that the girls’ mother, a research scientist teaching at theUniversityofVirginia, through the media and her attorney, repeatedly begged her daughters to meet with her and they refused. To my knowledge, that continues to this day.

As I was following the case I found myself thinking that there was an even juicier story behind this headline-grabber and set out to create one. I began with a few core facts. A man with an invented name and history, twice married to wealthy widows, living inPalm Beach, playground of the mega-rich and famous, and involved in a crime. Two adoring daughters unaware of their true identities. Over time my imagination happily supplied the rest. A townhouse offFifth Avenue. A sprawling estate inVirginia. Romantic Paris in the years prior to WWII. A riveting past for Jack Morgan: skilled lover, lack-luster artist and irresistible rascal. A full-blown range of challenges and hard-wrought triumphs for his traumatized daughter Charlotte (Charlie).     

 

About Exceeding Expectations

It’s 1961 and Palm Beachsocialite, irresistible rascal and devoted father Jack Morgan encounters genuine danger while staging his suicide to shield his beloved daughters from disgrace. Next, meet his daughter Charlotte (Charlie), an over-indulged 23 year-old struggling to cope with the traumatizing loss of her beloved father, her sister’s resulting mental breakdown and the discovery that she’s suddenly penniless. Fortunately Raul, an admiring young attorney, appears to offer assistance. As terrified as she is about daily survival, Charlie soon realizes that she has to learn what drove her father to kill himself. With Raul’s much needed ego-bolstering, the drive of necessity and unforeseen determination, Charlie finds a practical use for her annoyingly lean 5’ 11” frame. In time, this career finances her hard-wrought independence, her sister’s costly treatment and an emotional eye-opening journey toParis.

Jumping back in time to romantic pre-WWII Paris, readers meet young Alan Fitzpatrick – aka Jack Morgan – lack-luster artist and expert lover and the bewitching girl who will become the mother of his children. Not even Charlie’s relentless detective work will uncover all Jack’s secrets, but in a fireworks of surprise endings, she discovers all that she needs to know and more:  disturbing truths about her father, her own unique talent, crimes great and small and a diabolical villain.

Chapter One of  

Exceeding Expectations

 

January 2, 1962
Glancing down at the Porsche’s speedometer Jack eased up on the gas. The nearest car was a mile back, but a cop could be hiding around the next bend. Being stopped by the police did not fit into Jack’s plan. He blamed the excitement. And guilt. Composing the single page to his daughters had been agony. There was no nice way to say he intended to kill himself. There were no comforting euphemisms for suicide. No words to excuse a mortal sin. And worst of all, no way to ease the pain his beloved girls would experience. But they, and everyone else, had to believe his intention was absolute and irreversible or the plan would fail. After several miserable gut-wrenching attempts, Jack wrote how much he loved them and said that this was something he had to do to protect them.
Knowing he could rely on Petal’s steely strength, Jack’s letter to his wife was more direct. He had explained that he was doing this to save her and his girls from scandal and disgrace. And as he was making this noble sacrifice, he knew she could be relied on to be good to his daughters. Petal might not be the maternal sort, but no one could accuse her of being tight-fisted. After reading the letter, his dying declaration, and waiting for two Chivas Regal’s straight to take effect, she would call a few select members of her powerful family, and her attorney. The results of those calls would be a discreet obituary in The New York Times, another in the local paper, hinting at a long-term debilitating disease, and no further investigation. A quiet memorial service would be held in Manhattan, Petal’s preferred place of residence, and she would be stunning in black for the next six to ten weeks, depending on her social calendar.
The best thing about his plan was its simplicity. He would wait until two or three in the morning when the roads would be deserted, park the car on the middle of a bridge and disappear into the night. The bridge and town had been carefully selected – less than a five-mile walk to the railroad to prevent someone later recalling giving a lift to a stranger. And the town had to be small – an insignificant speck on the map. The smaller the town, Jack had reasoned, the less sophisticated the police force. Fielding, Florida, a town that lacked a drug store, supermarket, bank, and beauty parlor was ideal. Serious crime in Fielding probably consisted of intimidating the kids who tipped over outhouses on Halloween and jailing the same town drunk every Friday night. A costly abandoned car, coupled with the later discovered suicide notes, guaranteed Jack would be the topic of intense gossip for years, and the object of a bumbling investigation for no more than a week. The Porsche would get more attention than the lack of a corpse in an area where alligators outnumbered house pets, and a Ford with all four fenders intact was considered a damned fine automobile.
Once he boarded a train he’d be fine. Men who rode the rails kept secrets. They were members of a tribe of vagabonds who preferred the town around the next curve – adventurous men ready to share a pot of tramp stew with another kindred spirit. And he was eager to join them. For the last two and half decades, his life had revolved around his girls. Jack had chosen that life and never once regretted it. A man couldn’t have finer daughters than Amelia and Charlotte. But they were grown now and maybe he had earned himself a change. He thought he might head for Texas, a leviathan-sized state where a man’s past was not apt to be questioned. And Texas was known for its horses. He loved horses — riding them, watching them trot, canter, toss their heads, nurse their foals. Gorgeous, glorious creatures they were.
After several hours of driving through towns too small to boast a stop sign, Jack reached his destination. A weather-beaten building with a concave roof housed the grocery that doubled as Fielding’s post office. He gave his letters to a leathery man behind the counter and gazed at a jar of pickles with interest. He had been so focused on reaching his destination he had forgotten to eat lunch. “Is there a place around here to get something to eat?” “Just Wiley’s. Kind of a bar/restaurant down the street. Lost its sign in the last hurricane, but you’ll find it.”
An orange neon light in the window erratically flickered Budweiser. Jack glanced inside. It was more bar than restaurant, and grimy. Lacking an alternative, he entered. A wall of vacant knotty-pine booths faced a long bar backed by a mirror so streaked with fly droppings and smoke, that reflected images appeared cloudy. Five or six patrons turned to note his presence and then quickly resumed what they had been doing. Jack proceeded to the bar’s last booth and took a seat where he could oversee the comings and goings. The gym bag containing twenty-seven thousand dollars he stowed under the table.
A blowsy overweight waitress with an elaborate hairdo and a too-tight skirt approached. “Need a menu?” she asked as she wiped the table with a dingy towel.
“What time do you stop serving food?”
“The kitchen closes at eight.”
Jack removed his buck suede jacket and placed it on the seat beside him. Assuming this place closed at midnight, he had five long hours to kill. “Bring me a draft beer and a hamburger. And if you could spare a newspaper, I’d appreciate it.”
She soon returned with his beer and a ten-page weekly tabloid filled with notices of church events, and feed and grain ads. It was a typical weekday night in a small town bar: plenty of griping and boasting, lengthy recitations of what could have been and should have been, a few stale jokes, more men than women, a lot of talk, little action.
“Would you turn up the radio?” a customer called from the far end of the bar. “That’s me and Wanda’s favorite song.”
The bartender adjusted the dial. A twangy melancholy western tune drowned out the dull background noise.
“Turn it down! Turn that blasted thing down!” several customers shouted in unison.
The bartender found an agreeable level of volume and conversation resumed. It started to rain about nine — a light drizzle at first and then a steady hard-driving downpour. On her return trip from the ladies room, a woman in her late thirties, attractive in a tired way, paused to inquire if Jack would be in town for a while. He politely explained that he was just passing through and she rejoined her companions at the bar.
“That would be eighty cents, including the beer. Would you mind settling up now?” the waitress asked at nine-thirty. “I’m leaving in a few minutes. Buddy, that’s the bartender, he’ll take care of you. I’m going home to my kids.” Jack handed her a dollar and told her to keep the change. At ten o’clock Jack went to the men’s room and ducked into a stall. Removing the bills from the gym bag Jack distributed them around the money belt. Twenty-seven thousand dollars. Money painstakingly gleaned from his checking account in amounts that wouldn’t later arouse suspicion. It wouldn’t finance the way of life he had been enjoying very long, but it could buy ten new Chevrolets. More than enough for a fresh start.
Customers, who had been checking their watches and shaking their heads for the last hour or more, decided the rain was not going to let up. One by one, they finished their beers, turned up their collars, cursed the weather and dashed into the street.
“Last call,” the owner announced to Jack and two stragglers. “Closing at eleven cause of this miserable weather.”
“No more for me. I gotta go to work tomorrow,” the older of the two remaining men announced. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and paid his tab. Jack closed his eyes and listened to rain pounding the wood roof. The last customer drank his beer and stared out the front window at the unrelenting downpour. He was about Jack’s size and weight, somewhere in his twenties – a kid. His light brown hair was home-cut and in need of a trim. His pants were deeply creased and stained with what Jack guessed to be grease. A handyman, or maybe a mechanic who worked nearby.
Jack grabbed the empty gym bag, handed a dollar bill to the bartender, and headed for the door. The kid blocked the exit.
“My truck’s about a mile or so down the road. It weren’t raining when I started out. I’d be grateful, mister, if you could give me a ride,” the kid said.
Jack appraised the kid grinning back at him. Crooked teeth vied with one another for space, and his tired green eyes spoke of a resilience born of hardship. The faded denim shirt he wore over a grimy T-shirt would provide no protection from the cold and rain. Jack looked at the bartender owner hoping for some indication that this kid was a local, but the bartender was busy counting the day’s receipts. “You having any trouble with that truck?” Jack tapped his chest. “This old ticker of mine doesn’t work as good as it used to,” he lied. “If you need a hand with that truck, I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to help.”
“I got no trouble with the truck. Runs dandy,” he assured Jack. “I left it at a farmhouse to be unloaded. Sold them folks a cord of firewood. But they had to unload and stack it theirselves. That was the deal. They unload it and stack it theirselves whilst I go into town.”
Jack weighed the risk. He had twenty-seven thousand dollars in the money belt, but this kid didn’t know that. All he knew was that it was pouring, it was cold and he needed a ride. Eleven o’clock was far too early for Jack to carry out his plan. All that awaited him was two or three hours of boredom in a parked car. “What’s your name, kid?”
“Folks mostly call me Iowa.”
“My name’s Jack and the Porsche across the street is mine. Wait here. No sense both of us getting soaked.” By the time Jack reached the car and jumped in, his hair and clothes were drenched. Mostly Iowa had fared little better. “Which direction?” Jack asked his passenger.
“You’re headin’ the right way. Just follow the road a piece. I’ll tell you where to turn.”
“Is it on the left or the right?”
“Left.”
“I expect you live around here.”
“Just passin’ through.”
They soon left the residential part of town. The driving rain and incessant flip-flop flip-flop of the windshield wipers blurred his vision. Jack tried the high beams and quickly switched back. Pointing to a dim light on what appeared to be a house he asked, “It that it?”
“Nope. That ain’t it. It’s up yonder a bit.”
“When I first saw you, Iowa, I said to myself, now there’s a fellow who knows his way around cars. You a mechanic?”
“I fiddled with cars some. Nothing as swanky as this.”
For the next two or three miles there wasn’t a break in the road — not a path, planted field, farmhouse or shed, only endless sawgrass and pine trees. “That had to be some hike into town. Are you sure we didn’t pass it? You did say it was on the left?”
“Yep. On the left.”
While Jack had been struggling to locate the elusive house and truck, Mostly Iowa had been facing right. Damn! What an idiot he had been! A solitary man wearing expensive clothes and a flashy gold watch. A new Porsche – obviously his. A mysterious gym bag that had never left his side. A transient loner who needed a ride.  “We must have passed it. I’m going to turn around.”
“Just pull over here!” Mostly Iowa’s eyes were cold. His right hand expertly cradled a knife.
Targeted like a deer by a hungry kid. Stalked! Jack’s foot remained on the accelerator. “You don’t want to do this, Iowa. How about I slow down to ten, fifteen miles an hour and you jump out? We part friends and forget this ever happened.”
“You stop this here car or I’ll stick you like a pig. It wouldn’t bother me none to kill you.”
Now Jack was a man who liked a good laugh as much as the next guy, but irony had its place. Dying the very night he scheduled his fake suicide was not his idea of a joke.  Iowa grabbed Jack’s right arm. “Stop this car or I’ll cut out your gizzard and leave it for the birds.”
“I’m not stopping the car as long as you got that knife,” Jack said in a calm friendly voice. He could feel the frightening tip of the steel blade through his suede jacket. “Toss it out the window and I’ll stop the car.”
Iowa grabbed the steering wheel. The Porsche hydroplaned and fish-tailed, barely avoiding trees on both sides of the road.
By intuitively releasing his grip, the finely engineered racing car realigned itself. Jack glanced at his passenger looking for some hint of humanity, still hoping to change the kid’s mind, yet very much aware of the danger. “You’re going to get us both killed. We’re doing twenty miles an hour. The ground is soft from the rain. Open the door and roll out.”
“Not a chance in hell, you miserable fuck. You’re going to die.”
The knife slashed the jacket and dug into the money belt. If it weren’t for the thick wad of bills, the blade would be boring into his rib cage. Jack deliberately swerved the car right and then left. Iowa grabbed the wheel. Using the butt of his right fist Jack smashed his attacker’s hand. Iowa howled with pain and dropped the knife. He alternated curses with punches aimed at Jack’s head.
Jack fought to simultaneously keep the car on the road with his left hand and ward off his attacker with his right. A pothole caught Iowa off balance. He slid away. Jack used the opportunity to use the bent right arm that had been guarding his chest and lash out, landing an explosive blow with his clenched fist. He could feel the bridge of Iowa’s nose collapse, hear the bones crack.
“Goddamn you! You jackass. You busted my nose!” Iowa fumbled beneath the seat.
Seeing the dreaded knife reappear, Jack made the only decision left. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.” He braced himself and floored the Porsche, aiming the passenger side at a massive oak tree. Iowa reached for the wheel again, too late. The car hit the tree with a violent jolt, throwing both men forward. A branch smashed the windshield a microsecond before Jack’s head reached it. The glass shattered harmlessly, but his chest had struck the steering wheel with an impact that left him gasping for air. The motor groaned and sputtered as Jack waited with his eyes closed. His chest ached with every breath. Tentatively touching his forehead he discovered a swelling throbbing bump. Jack opened his eyes. Mostly Iowa had not fared as well. He lay slumped against the door. Blood from the broken nose bathed his face, neck, and shirt. Jack didn’t know if he was dead or unconscious, but he wouldn’t be a threat for a while.
“Why didn’t you jump when you had the chance?” Jack asked the limp figure. “Soon as I find out what kind of shape I’m in, I’ll figure out what I’m going to do with you. If I can walk back to town, I’ll send someone out to help. And that’s better than you deserve, you dumb bastard, considering you were trying to kill me.”
Limb by limb, joint by joint, Jack tested his extremities. His arms, hands, and fingers moved, painfully, but they didn’t appear to be broken. He flexed one leg and then the other. “My legs seem okay,” he informed his silent companion. His chest and shoulders ached. “Probably cracked a few ribs and there’s a buzzing in my ears. Going to be sore for a while, as well as black and blue, but I’m alive. What about it, Iowa? You going to make it?”
Jack leaned across the inert body expecting to hear a heartbeat. Nothing. Silence. The kid was dead! Jesus Christ! He hadn’t intended to kill the kid. His goal had been to prevent his own imminent demise.
“Now look what you did, Iowa. You tried to kill me and you ended up killing yourself. God damn dumb kid!” he said to keep his teeth from chattering. “God damn dumb kid!” His entire right side throbbed and he was trembling. “Got to get out of here.”
He tried the door handle. It turned, but the bowed door would not budge. He threw all his weight against it and grimaced. It groaned in sympathy and swung open causing him to crash onto the muddy ground. The rain had subsided to a trickle. Jack wiped his hands on soggy moss and sat down to think beside the demolished car.
There was nothing more that could be done for Iowa. His problems were over. Jack’s problems had tripled. In a day or two, Petal and the girls would read the letters he had mailed. A first-class plan wiped out because he wanted to help out a dumb kid. Okay, he told himself, if faking his suicide by leaving the Porsche on a bridge was no longer possible, he simply needed a new plan. A new plan. Jesus, Mary, and Joseph. The Porsche would be traced to him. They would find a dead kid in his car. If he disappeared now he would be accused of murder. Unless . . . Unless  . . . Iowa was about his size. The police would assume the body belonged to Jack Morgan if – if it was unrecognizable. But how? The car and its contents would have to be burnt beyond recognition. He could do that. Provided he kept calm, and no one came along in the interim, it was a good alternative plan.
Jack removed the ruined suede jacket. It could go on the corpse. A scrap of burnt suede would add to the illusion, as would his wedding band. He had intended to sell it before he reached Texas, but it would be better used now. As he removed the ring he noticed his prized gold watch. They might look for it. It was too bad about the watch, but it too had to go.
The tight quarters inside the crumpled Porsche, coupled with Jack’s reluctance to touch the bloody corpse made the exchange time consuming, exhausting, and grisly. As a final touch, Jack traded shoes with the dead man before shoving him into position behind the wheel.
An hour had passed since the crash and no one had driven by. His luck was holding. Now he needed matches. Matches or a cigarette lighter. His pockets yielded neither. His plan would fail because he lacked a pack of matches that every bar and restaurant supplied free. Think, he told himself. There had to be a solution. The Porsche’s cigarette lighter. Would it still work? Leaning over Iowa’s body, Jack located it and pressed it. Thirty seconds later it popped out glowing red. God bless the Germans! Every twenty or thirty years, it took a war to remind them who was boss, but they sure knew how to build a car. Jack looked for something to start the fire. Downed branches were too wet. A dry rag. He kept a towel in the trunk.
Jack walked to the rear of the car to unlock the trunk but it wouldn’t release. He kicked it with his heel. Another sharp kick. The trunk creaked open. A white, still-folded hand towel lay tucked in a corner. A few more minutes and it would be over.
He stuffed as much of the towel as would fit into the gas tank, then replaced the ignition key. As he was about to press the cigarette lighter he remembered the knife. What if it were found with the remains? Palm beach socialite Jack Morgan didn’t carry a switchblade. He would have to find it. Ten minutes passed as he searched the car and the corpse. He was about to give up when he felt it lodged under the passenger seat. He folded it, tucked it into his belt, and inserted the dependable lighter.
Half a football field away Jack leaned against a tree and waited. Several times the flame appeared to die, only to flare up again. And then the rag ignited with an enormous pop – followed by ear-splitting thunder. Roaring flames, the height of a church steeple leapt from the car’s rear. Jack could no longer make out Iowa’s silhouette in the flames. Just a few more minutes, he told himself. The smoke and heat from the blaze reddened his face and seared his lungs. When it was time to leave Jack strode away in Iowa’s ill-fitting shoes, away from the wrecked Porsche, the town of Fielding, and his past. Then he heard it. A train whistle. The magical hollow sound of a train whistle. And it wasn’t far off. Damn, if he wasn’t a lucky so-and-so. One of God’s favorite children. Jesus tolerated the pious, sober, and abstinent. Yes, He tolerated the tiresome righteous and their smug unforgiving Christian smiles. And He had little pity for the tyrant, the merciless, and the cruel. But Jesus loved the ordinary sinner. Isn’t that what the bible taught? The Almighty loved sinners. Without sinners there would have been no reason for Jesus to come to earth and experience the joy and pain of mortals.
Intoxicating freedom mingled with the chilling air. Jack could forget the chafing money belt, cheap ill-fitting shoes, sore feet, and aching muscles. He had a new name and a thousand new possibilities. The next time he found himself with a drink in his hand he would remember Iowa and raise his glass to the tragic dumb kid.
“This one’s for you,Iowa, you miserable misguided creature,” he would say. “May the good Lord take mercy on your soul and your time in Purgatory be brief.”

Buy Exceeding Expectations on Amazon.com

Buy Exceeding Expectations on BarnesandNoble.com

 
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Posted by on April 24, 2012 in Excerpt, Interview, Look at this!, Mystery, Romance

 

Alison Wonderland by Helen Smith

Alison WonderlandAlison Wonderland by Helen Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first thing I noticed about Alison Wonderland was the contradictory reviews on Amazon.
Now, I made sure not to read the actual reviews, a very bad practice for reviewers in my opinion. (I am big on opinions, I know.) I did, however, notice the Star Ratings. Fours, twos, fives, threes… it was odd. Having corresponded through email with Helen Smith, I knew her to be articulate and very interesting so I was confused with the ratings I saw.

So I began to read. And read, read some more, remember I missed dinner, and read while I ate dinner. I was delighted! Helen Smith’s writing style is enchanting in it’s vibrant colors, neurotic characters and flamboyant plot-lines. It’s like listening to that wonderful friend, the one who travels all over the world; wears bohemian mixed with designer clothing; has friends with yachts and still can’t wait to regale you with her stories, talking non-stop into the night with bottles of wine piling up on your coffee table.

I can see where some would get confused if they tried to take the characters too literally and too seriously. Helen Smith is very clever in that she weaves many “Easter Eggs” into most aspects of the story. It’s like falling into the rabbit hole and discovering brilliant people who aren’t quit what you expect and scenes filled with double-entandre. I loved every minute of it.

Please do not misunderstand me, this is not a bizarro read in which nothing makes sense and you have to re-read every chapter to get it. In fact, it flowed for me and I became lost in the story. In fact, the story is very straight forward. (Smiles)

Alison Temple has hired an all woman investigative company. She wants to confirm that her husband is not cheating on her. She eventually becomes an investigator at that very office. Once she has become experienced her boss sets her on a very secret assignment and the adventure begins.

You will love her friend Taron who is just plain nuts and lovely. Her neighbor Jeff, who is madly in love with her, is an inventor of crazy but useful things. The relationships are refreshing and funny and believable.

This is a smart story. Fantastical and fun. A decadent read that I loved and strongly recommend to contemporary, urban fantasy, mystery and the curious! Just kick off your shoes, lay back and open your mind, then open the book…..

Here is the Summary from GoodReads but I warn you, it doesn’t do it justice. When Alison joins Mrs Fitzgeralds Bureau of Investigation as a private detective, her new job takes her on a series of loosely linked adventures involving an abandoned baby, a transgenic animal and secret tunnels under The Thames. She travels from London to the seaside town of Weymouth and back again with her new best friend Taron, a girl with a hundred candle smile. But someone is betraying her. Is it Taron? Is it Jeff, the sweet-natured inventor who writes her poetry? Or are there darker forces at play? ‘Only occasionally does a piece of fiction leap out and demand immediate cult status. Alison Wonderland is one.’ The Times

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Cedardale Court by Nathan Lee Christensen

Cedardale Court Cedardale Court by Nathan Lee Christensen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cedardale Court is a delightful romp through the high drama of parental paranoia, unrequited love, blackmail, and murder. The cast of characters are interesting and imperfect and I loved them.
Canner and Chloe are a father and daughter looking for a new and better life. Crippled by his fear of losing his daughter and haunted by visions of his dead wife, Canner is hoping that their move to his Uncle Henry’s home in Oregon will gain stability for Chloe.
Chloe is a smart and precocious ten year old wanting her father to be happy and will do whatever is needed to help him.
Henry has lived alone most of his life and is uncertain of how things will go. His secret love for his neighbor Jane has defined him and his actions for two decades leaving him unprepared for a new family. Jane has waited patiently for Henry but secrets of her own has made her decide to leave Cedardale Court forever.
The remaining cast are just as torn in their lives but are as wonderfully imagined as our main characters.
Nathan Lee Christensen weaves an entertaining soap opera of murder and mayhem that kept me enthralled throughout. He allows his readers to flit seamlessly into the minds of all of his characters giving us a point-of-view that pulls us in and makes us feel as if we were part of the story.
The author deserves every one of this 5 Star rating due to his mastery of immersing his reader completely and telling a complex story effortlessly. Plus, it was just plain fun.

Here is the Summary: Full of daring fools, haunting old flames, and brimming with panicked villainy, Cedardale Court captures the final days of Canner Connelly’s ten year struggle; his quiet avoidance of death. Despite his best efforts, and a well-intentioned move to the Oregon countryside, the safety and peace-of-mind he’s longed for since the passing of his wife, for him and his daughter, Chloe, finally appears to be within reach. But, upon waking the next morning, the promising start at Uncle Henry’s falls rather short as the sun comes up over the tree line, and the ever inept inhabitants of Cedardale Court begin to start their days. A domestic dispute, a little reckless driving, and a broken fire hydrant later, what normally might have been a very enjoyable Sunday quickly turns into a slightly darker affair as a severed human hand, well, half of one really, turns up in Uncle Henry’s bushes. Things only get messier, and more frightfully uncertain as, one by one, the secrets that have so carefully been kept, for so very long, start to unravel for everyone. For Canner and Chloe, amidst the drunkenness, burgling, kidnapping, extortions and murders of the people around them, suddenly it’s no longer a struggle to maintain normalcy, or even an attempt to deny the familiar ghosts lurking around every corner; it’s now a question of whether or not they’ll come out of this with their wits, or if they’ll even make it out at all. In the face of the monstrously absurd, this little neighborhood, this absolutely out of control cul-de-sac, might serve as the key to opening the door for Canner and Chloe’s new life, or it might be exactly what it appears to be; the gateway to the undoing of them all.

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Posted by on March 10, 2012 in Drama, Mystery

 

Bitten (A Lauren Westlake Mystery) by Dan O’Brien

BittenBitten by Dan O’Brien
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lauren Westlake is an F.B.I. agent who becomes enthralled by a cold case she discovers. Dating back a century there have been several violent murders in different places of the country. What ties them together with an impossible timeline is the fact that all the victims are torn and shredded in the same manner by, seemingly, the same weapon.

It had been speculated that these were some sort of animal attack but as Lauren reviews the cases she is intrigued by the hints of a supernatural cause.

Using a vacation as an excuse to investigate on her own she travels to Locke, Minnesota where the latest victim has been found.

Here is the book summary:A predator stalks a cold northern Minnesotan town. There is talk of wolves walking on two legs and attacking people in the deep woods. Lauren Westlake, resourceful and determined F.B.I Agent, has found a connection between the strange murders in the north and a case file almost a hundred years old. Traveling to the cold north, she begins an investigation that spirals deep into the darkness of mythology and nightmares. Filled with creatures of the night and an ancient romance, the revelation of who hunts beneath the moon is more grisly than anyone could have imagined.

This did not turn out to be your typical werewolf story. Elements of horror, police procedural and Urban Fantasy give Bitten a wide appeal.

I enjoyed the relationship Lauren strikes up with the small-town Sheriff and his officers. As the story progressed I was unsure of how things were going to turn out and, indeed, I was surprised by the turn of events.

I had a hard time reconciling the smart and savvy F.B.I. agent Lauren with the scattered Lauren that meets Dominic, a mysterious new-comer to Locke. Though it is most likely meant to portray an attraction between Lauren and Dominic and her feeling that there was something off about him, it was unclear and stood out for me. I also wanted a bit more character development. More meat on the secondary characters as well. (No pun intended.) Other than that I did enjoy the story and I see a huge potential for future Lauren Westlake novels.

I am looking forward to more from Dan O’Brien in this series.

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Matanzas Bay (A Quint Mitchell Mystery) by Parker Francis

Matanzas Bay (A Quint Mitchell Mystery)Matanzas Bay by Parker Francis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Parker Francis is a smooth operator, so is his new fictional P.I., Quint Mitchell!
Now when I say smooth, I’m not referring to the nature of a ‘Ladies Man’ although Quint Mitchell is one hot detective and I know Parker Francis AKA Victor DiGenti is pretty smokin’ himself. The writing style Parker Francis uses is smooth. He and his character Quint Mitchell guided me into a clever mystery and before I knew it, I was immersed in the story and environment. I could not put this down.

Here is the book summary:When PI Quint Mitchell volunteered to help with an archaeological survey in St. Augustine, he didn’t count on digging up a murder victim. In the nation’s oldest city, Mitchell discovers links to ancient sins, comes face to face with his own past, and unleashes powerful forces that will do anything to keep their secrets—even if it means taking his life. In this award-winning debut mystery, author Parker Francis taps into an undercurrent of violence hidden behind the sleepy façade of the historic town. When Mitchell’s friend, the City Archaeologist, is charged with a brutal murder, he must find the true killer while fighting inner demons and the corrosive residue of racial violence dating back to the Civil Rights Movement. As he learns, St. Augustine was birthed in blood—Matanzas means “place of slaughter” in Spanish—and violence is never far from the surface.

Quint Mitchell is a complex character without trying too hard. Mr.Francis crafts his past and likable personality as smoothly as he crafted this book. I truly liked Quint and easily empathized with him as he struggles with his tragic past and faces danger as he tries to clear his friend of murder. The supporting characters were interesting and believable. The environment is rich as Francis describes the historical city of St. Augustine. All this contributed to a pleasurable read and I cannot recommend this story loudly enough to mystery lovers. I look forward to the next Quint Mitchell Mystery and, (hopefully), the many that follow!

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Posted by on September 17, 2011 in Crime Drama, Look at this!, Mystery, Review

 

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The Philanthropist’s Danse by Paul Wornham

The Philanthropist's DanseThe Philanthropist’s Danse by Paul Wornham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I simply can not believe that this is Paul Wornham’s first book. I am convinced he has a few hiding somewhere or under a different name because if this is his first full novel then the Mystery world better prepare. Mr. Wornham is going to be causing quite a scene!
Mr.Wornham requested a review through my blog and I was thrilled. No matter how many times it happens, I am always surprised when I get a request because I revere storytellers so much. The irony is I am told I can be a tough reviewer and I think Paul must’ve heard that rumor because he expressed some anxiety when I agreed to read The Philanthropist’s Danse. This review is not about me. The only reason I mention this is because I approached ‘Danse’ with an open mind and no expectations. I think Paul was pulling my leg…

Here is the summary from the book: Twelve people. Five days. One fortune.

Johnston Thurwell, one of the world’s richest men, dies unexpectedly. His family expects to inherit his wealth, but instead discover the dying philanthropist has spent his last days planning something called The Danse. The twelve most important people in his life are brought together to decide the most important question at the end of it. Who will inherit his fortune?

The family is sequestered in the philanthropists’ remote country mansion with a group that includes his best friend, his most loyal servants, and his greatest rival. They must agree who among them will share the fortune, but they must do it against the clock. Every twenty-four hours, the fortune is reduced. In just five days, it will all be gone.

The thin veneer of civility among the twelve is ripped away by naked greed as their lust for money drives them into betrayal, blackmail and violence.

The desperate family will do anything to save their inheritance. Except share it.

Once I began reading I was immediately drawn in to the story. Each character is intrinsic to the storyline and this author makes sure you are aware of it by allowing the reader to drop into the character’s mind and see his point of view. No one character is the main focus of this story and though it may seem unsettling, this story simply flows. I felt like a fly on the wall. I was completely enthralled by each and every one of these characters and the circumstances that had brought them together.

Only two characters have a definite role to play in the events to come; William Bird, who is the late Johnston Thurwell’s lawyer and holds the instructions laid out by his employer and Johnston Thurwell himself who fills the minds of every guest and pervades each room of the mansion.

Every contingency has been allowed for by Thurwell and William Bird, armed with several sealed envelopes given to him by Thurwell, need only to find the appropriate one which contains further instructions. The lawyer doesn’t have any idea what is written in these and can only open them if events match the handwritten labels on the envelope.

As you are introduced to each participant of The Danse, you may form a feeling of empathy or of dislike for each but I guarantee each of these opinions will change many times throughout the events of this book. Not only do these people have to decide who gets part of the fortune but what percentage each one gets. The situation is explosive and seemingly impossible when each person has dark secrets or allows greed to control their actions.

I could not put this down. I had no idea what would happen next or how this could end. I will not ruin this story with too many details but if you like a good Agatha Christie mystery you will be very pleased with Paul Wornham’s ‘Debut’ novel, The Philanthropist’s Danse.

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Posted by on August 14, 2011 in Look at this!, Mystery, Review

 
 
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