book clubs and Coyote Wells

Excerpt from Shadow Canyon

Elnora’s house overflowed with Happy Bookers. The librarian took the time to introduce everyone to her new boyfriend, Ansel Conover, who seemed friendly enough carrying around a tray of rolled chicken tacos and dip.

Overall, the turnout was more than Gemma had expected. Just as club members had hoped, there were lots of new faces in the crowd. 3D SC png

Lianne had dragged her reluctant next-door neighbor, Enid Lloyd, to the meeting by promising her food and drink. On the other hand, Gemma had pushed the novel onto Leia hoping the chef would appreciate the depression-era southern recipes. Leia in turn had sweet-talked Rima and Willow into coming.

Gemma joined the others as they took seats in a circle around the living room, determined to fit in with the klatch no matter what.

While Elnora filled their glasses with a nice merlot that went well with the finger food, Gemma decided to bend Ansel’s ear on his next trip around the room with the hors d’oeuvres. It didn’t take long.

“You have an unusual first name. Anything to do with Ansel Adams, the photographer?”

“My mother was a huge fan. Ansel. Now there’s a name that gets you beat up a lot after school. You’re from San Francisco, right?”

“Actually I’m from Coyote Wells, born and raised. I spent several years in the Bay Area though until I moved back here a few months ago.”

“Weird weather there. Cold in the summer. Is there ever a time when it’s warm?”

“Not many know this but the hottest month in San Francisco is actually September.”

“Good to know. Maybe I’ll surprise Elnora with a trip there in the fall, make the rounds of all the museums. Elnora would love that.”

“Didn’t you used to teach archaeology at UC Davis?”

“Anthropology,” Ansel corrected. “The systematic study of our evolutionary origins. Studying our cultural backgrounds, processing our evolutionary biology, those are some of the most stimulating fields of study. How I do miss the classroom and looking out on the eager faces of my students. They always managed to ask great questions. I had to think on my feet and be prepared for any discussion.”

Gemma didn’t think she’d ever been that ecstatic about evolutionary origins, but then she’d come a long way since her days as a freshman. “I was wondering. Might you know a good forensic anthropologist, someone who could do a facial reconstruction like I’ve seen on the Doe Network?”

“What a fascinating question. I believe I could get you in touch with a former colleague of mine who does that sort of thing. Why do you ask?”

She filled him in on the town’s Jane Doe. “Her family deserves to know what happened to her. She at least deserves a name.”

“That’s a noble gesture. Don’t leave here without getting Candace Stewart’s number. She specializes in facial reconstruction at the Institute of Sciences. She still teaches a class at Cabrillo College.”

“Thanks. How much do you think something like that would cost?”

“Don’t worry about that yet. Besides, depending on the situation, it might fall under the federal grant Candace obtained. Or, she might get her students to do it gratis as a project. But you do realize the process takes months.”

“I just need to get it going. I don’t care how long it takes.”

“How long what takes?” Leia wanted to know as she elbowed her way into the conversation.

“The Jane Doe project.”

“The whole town could take up a collection and pay for it,” Leia suggested.

“Now you’re talking,” Ansel said as he moved on to fulfill his boyfriend duties.

Leia leaned in near Gemma’s ear. “When do I get to tell everyone here that those recipes in the book suck?”

“Shh! Don’t make waves,” Gemma chided. “I don’t want to get kicked out my first time here.”

“Oh, please. Don’t give me that superior attitude. You’d feel differently if it involved chocolate.”

“How many recipes did you try anyway? Maybe it was a fluke.”

“Mom and I picked ten and split them up between us. Of the five I made, it was that awful breakfast casserole that was the worst. I thought poor Zeb might have to make an appointment to see Luke to get his stomach pumped.”

“Oh, come on.”

“I’m not kidding. I should’ve thrown the entire dish down the garbage disposal the first time I sampled it. If the author messed up chocolate truffles the way she screwed up a simple pasta recipe, you’d be livid.”

“Well. Yeah. Goes without saying.” Gemma looked around the room, her eyes landing on Edna. “Did you know she brings fresh flowers every day out of her garden to half the stores along Water Street, including the shop?”

“Sure. Where do you think the restaurant gets all those hydrangeas we put on the tables? Edna’s garden is a showplace.”

Elnora called the meeting to order and everyone took their seats. To Gemma’s surprise, the book discussion lasted a mere forty-five minutes. All the while she had to keep kicking Leia to prevent her from complaining about the recipes. But in the end Lucinda Fenton was the one who brought it up.

“I think maybe the author left out a few key ingredients. That recipe for homemade dumplings turned out just awful.”

That subject had Leia bounding to her feet, thoroughly picking apart each recipe she’d tried and ruined. For the next thirty minutes they discussed flogging the author before the talk turned to more docile gossip. Everyone wandered back over to where the appetizers had been set up to graze and chat about the next book selection.

Getting bored, Rima tapped Gemma on the shoulder. “I thought of something else that happened that summer. It might mean nothing. But then again, it might just help in some way.”

“Come with me, let’s take this outside so we can hear each other,” Gemma said, steering Rima onto a side terrace lined with flowerpots, rows of containers overflowing with every color imaginable of blossoms.

“Geraniums are Elnora’s specialty. She grows them from seeds,” Rima pointed out.

“So I see. What’s up? What did you recall from that summer?”

“Remember how I told you that Lindsay Bishop was the second car accident that summer in August. Well, I forgot one little detail. Lindsay got married that spring, April I believe. She’d only been Aaron Barkley’s wife for four months when she had that car wreck. You should check to see if Aaron collected a fat insurance payout afterward. I remember his spending a lot of cash around town after that.”

“Why Rima, you think like a super sleuth. I’m proud of you.”

“Hey, I watch crime shows. Theo teases me all the time about them. It’s sort of a hobby of mine at the end of the day. It’s time he respected the importance of murder mysteries.”

“I’ll say. Any time a spouse ends up dead four months after the wedding is cause for alarm and a reason to ask questions.”

“That’s just it. I don’t think anyone did…ask questions. Do you think the two accidents might be related?”

“You never know. But it’s a highly suspicious coincidence. And way past time to start digging for answers.”

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Beat the heat. Read.

summer-heat

What better way to deal with the triple digits of summer than to stay put and settle back in your easy chair to read. Nothing like getting your hands on an adventure to another realm, a touch of romance, a splash of suspense, or a hard-edge mystery to  get your mind off the August doldrums. Get your beach read on before school starts!

 

 

Ann Rule, a true crime icon

Lazy people tend not to take chances, but express themselves by tearing down other’s work.

~ Ann Rule

1931 – 2015

Ann Rule first introduced me to the term “serial killer.” That killer was Ted Bundy. Since she sat beside Ted working at a crisis hotline, Ann found it fascinating that the man she knew as a volunteer could be responsible for the heinous acts of which he’d been accused. There was even a brief time when she thought Ted might be innocent of his crimes. Of course, that didn’t last for long. With firsthand knowledge of Ted’s personality, she decided to write a book about him. With The Stranger Beside Me, Ann turned true crime upside down and never looked back.

No matter her criminal subject, Ann’s writing put her at the top of her game. The way she told a story, the way she held her audience spellbound–including scary details that made chills crawl up the spine–Ann brought her reader to the edge and straight into the front row seat of the crime.

As a former Seattle policewoman, that insight into law enforcement gave her an inroad into the sick minds of an assortment of criminals. Ann was the first to write about the narcissistic sociopath, Diane Downs. In Small Sacrifices, Ann detailed how Diane shot her three children on the night of May 19, 1983 and then drove them to the hospital where Diane calmly claimed she’d been carjacked. By the time Diane got to the emergency room, her daughter, Cheryl had already succumbed to her injuries. The other two were critically wounded. Her son would be paralyzed for life, her surviving daughter would suffer a debilitating stroke. The thing is, Ann Rule took us through how Diane, as a working single mother and who appeared so normal on the outside was actually a true monster on the inside, just waiting to come up with a devious plan to get rid of her children.

Along the way Ann told us about Thomas Capano, the I-5 killer, the Green River killer, just to name a few. Her writing put her in a class all her own. She had no equal in her field. Ann Rule will be missed, not just by the lovers of true crime, but all of us who knew all along that she was the best at what she did.

Skye Cree is back!

Now on Sale!

His Garden of BonesHGoB_cover_draft3

Not every flower is grown with love.

Years earlier, teenage girls began to vanish off the streets of Seattle. Now, they’re turning up dead, their mutilated bodies left in prominent locations around the city. Skye Cree suspects there are more. But connecting the sordid crimes will take dedication and skill on the part of her entire team, especially when the killer begins to morph into someone else. Will the hunter be able to stop a psychotic and cruel killer in time to save other victims from the same disturbing fate? Or will the killer find a way to outsmart Skye?

Cover Reveal: His Garden of Bones

Due for release April 10th

His Garden of Bones

A Skye Cree Novel

 

HGoB_cover_draft3

Not all flowers are grown with love.

Years earlier, teenage girls began to vanish off the streets of Seattle. Now, they’re turning up dead, their mutilated bodies left in prominent locations around the city. Skye Cree suspects there are more. But connecting the sordid crimes will take dedication and skill on the part of her entire team, especially when the killer begins to morph into someone else. Will the hunter be able to stop a psychotic and cruel killer in time to save other victims from the same disturbing fate?

Cover designed by artist Jess Johnson

The murdered, the unidentified

My name is missing, though I have a face.
My name is vanished, and I need a voice.
My name is lost; I yearn to be found.

~ Liz Chipman

1981 – 2005

Gia Allemand Funeral

Source: Rob Kim, Getty Images

I love a good murder mystery. That’s why I set out to write a fictional few. In real life, however, there’s not much to love about murder unless it’s when law enforcement gives the family a resolution by solving the case. But let’s face it, we all know the statistics are staggering when it comes to the numbers. Murders pile up in this country every day. It happens in inner cities, as well as rural areas, and everywhere in between. If you think a rural area is safer, think again. Sure the percentages might lessen your chances of becoming a victim if you live in a less populated area out in the boonies. No matter where you live, you’re not immune. No one is. Remember the Clutter family. In 1959, the Clutters lived in rural Holcomb, Kansas. Their remote farmhouse proved to be as dangerous as a street corner in LA. And consider the name Levi King. In September 2005, King went on a spree killing, murdering two people in Missouri before driving south to Texas where he went inside a remote farmhouse outside Pampa and committed what is known as the Texas Farmhouse murders, wiping out an entire family. By some miracle, King left behind a survivor.

But this post is not about the victims we know, or the high profile cases we’ve read about. No, it’s about something else, a disturbing fact that weighs heavily on my mind. If the stats don’t bother you, you’re a much stronger person than I am.

When you think homicides, you tend to think that since police have a victim,  they solve the crime based on knowing the identity of that victim. Police shows on TV tell us that the more a cop knows about the person who’s been killed, the better chances he or she can track down that person’s last known activities to find answers, to find the killer and get justice for the family. The detectives solve the crime because they follow a series of steps and…voila…after tracking down the victim’s last known whereabouts…the killer becomes known to us, the viewer, and the crime is solved. In a TV world that’s what happens. But as we all know, we don’t live in that place, that perfect world where everything follows a script.

What bothers me the most is knowing how many cases go unsolved. It’s shocking to discover in many cold cases here in the U.S. there are perhaps 40,000 people whose remains have been discovered—their remains have been found in state parks, by the side of the road, wooded areas, alleyways—but no one has a clue who they were in life. No one knows who they were while they lived. Sad. Disturbing. Some remains have gone unidentified for decades. Law enforcement has no names because no wallets or purses were found, no personal articles telling law enforcement who they were. Many of these unidentified remains were victims of homicides. They were found with obvious gunshot or knife wounds, fractured bones resulting from a beating, obvious head trauma, and the list goes on.

A great number of these cases are children and teens.

Take the case of Little Miss X whose skeletal remains were found near the Grand Canyon on Halloween, 1958, estimated age between eleven and fourteen. Little Miss X had been in that spot between nine to eighteen months before her bones were discovered. That means she’d been out there a long time before anyone came across her remains. Look at the date again. 1958. Little Miss X has been a Jane Doe for almost fifty years. Was Little Miss X a runaway? Maybe. Why did no one come forward to report a girl that young missing? Was she from the Arizona area or was she brought there from another state and dumped? An artistic rendering of Little Miss X appears at The Doe Network.

Then there’s Delta Dawn, the name given to a toddler, approximately eighteen-months-old, found in Dog River on December 5, 1982, near Moss Point, Jackson County, Mississippi. Delta Dawn had strawberry blonde hair and perhaps blue or brown eyes—no one seems to know which—with twelve teeth. Heartbreaking. She was around two feet six inches tall and weighed approximately twenty-five pounds. Here are Delta Dawn’s specifics at The Doe Network, a cute little thing who deserves a name.

Little Miss X and Delta Dawn are just two examples. If I listed all the ones that bother me I’d be here until the end of the year and there would be no cranking out book manuscripts. But do me a favor. Remember that not only are these cases unsolved—the killer got away with it—but the victims, in many cases kids—have gone unidentified. Sadly, there are more, so many more. Men, women, and children of all ages. I know posting about this won’t help much. I know that. But this post gives me an opportunity to thank the organizations that attempt to make a difference, The Doe Network, The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and NamUs who keep track of countless missing persons and those who remain unidentified.

At least now you see why cases like Little Miss X and Delta Dawn sometimes keep me up at night. Come to think of it, maybe they should keep you up at night, too.