The Bookseller by Mark Pryor

VP Chandler

by V.P. Chandler

 

As you may know from past blog posts, I’m often late to the game when it comes to reading a new book.  Although I have purchased several of the Hugo Marsten books, written by Mark Pryor, I finally got around to reading the first one, The Bookseller (2012)

(It was my turn to recommend a book for my book club so I was happy to recommend it. Two birds, once stone, and all of that. 😉 )

*WARNING, if you read this book, you will be craving French coffee and pastries!*

It starts with Hugo Marsten, head of security at the U.S. embassy, looking for a book at his favorite bouquiniste’s (bookseller’s) stall. These stalls are set up for tourists along the Seine. Pryor does a great job of explaining what these look like and describing the history of the bouquinistes without bogging the narrative down in details. As with many things in the book, I was interested in learning more. The bouquinistes have been in Paris for centuries. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bouquinistes

While Marsten is browsing and chatting with his friend, a nefarious-looking character approaches and Max, the bookseller, is kidnapped at gunpoint. The next day Marsten goes to the bookstall, hoping to see his friend, but a strange ferret-faced man is in his place. The man says he doesn’t know anything. Thus, starts the hunt to find Max. Marsten enlists the help of an old friend, semi-retired CIA agent, Tom Green and they uncover a myriad of dark secrets.

While searching for Max, they learn that Max was a survivor of the Holocaust and had been a Nazi hunter. Is his disappearance related to that? Soon other booksellers start to disappear and their bodies are found floating in the Seine. There is also a turf war in Paris among drug gangs who could be involved. And Marsten discovers that his new girlfriend has her own share of secrets. AND THEN, “…as he himself becomes a target, Hugo uncovers a conspiracy from Paris’s recent past that leads him deep into the enemy’s lair.” (description from markpryorbooks.com)
So there’s a lot going on in the novel, but Pryor is masterful at juggling all the pieces.

And I’m happy to report that my choice was a hit among my friends. We were all impressed that this was Pryor’s first novel! There are a few of us in the bunch who are fans of Sherlock Holmes and we liked the Holmesian touches that were peppered into the story. By the time we met, via Zoom, some had already read the second in the series. So two thumbs up for The Bookseller!

You can find more about the series on Mark Pryor’s website.

www.markpryorbooks.com/hugo-marston-series

And there he has an update on the series!

  • The Hugo Marston series has now been optioned for television / film by Ivan Schwarz at Like Entertainment, Inc.!
  • The ninth Hugo Marston novel, which is titled, THE FRENCH WIDOW, will be released on September 15, 2020.

Congratulations to Mark Pryor!

*I’d also like to add a reminder to please consider buying books from independent booksellers. The Bookseller, and other books, are available at  IndieBound, a great resource for finding independent bookstores.

 

 

 

 

Review of Boar Island by Nevada Barr

 

VP Chandler

Written by V.P. Chandler

 

The first Anna Pigeon book that I read by Nevada Barr was Blind Descent, book 6 of the series, back in 1998. And I’ve read most of her books since then. I’m hooked!

Since the main character in the books is a park ranger, each story is set in a national park. I’ve learned so much about nature, each park, and its landscape and history.  I particularly liked the history in Flashback, book 11. It was set in Dry Tortugas National Park. I didn’t know that that is where those who had been accused of Lincoln’s assassination were imprisoned back in 1865!

Here is the complete list of her books and where they are set.

As you’d expect, Anna has to solve mysteries and face all sorts of dangers in each book like mountain lions, bears, natural disasters, forest fires, and of course the most dangerous of all, people.

Boar Island starts away from the park with a case of cyber-bullying. You know what? Here’s the description from Barr’s website:

Anna Pigeon, in her career as a National Park Service Ranger, has had to deal with all manner of crimes and misdemeanors, but cyber-bullying and stalking is a new one. The target is Elizabeth, the adopted teenage daughter of her friend Heath Jarrod. Elizabeth is driven to despair by the disgusting rumors spreading online and bullying texts. Until, one day, Heath finds her daughter Elizabeth in the midst of an unsuccessful suicide attempt. She calls in the cavalry—her aunt Gwen and her friend Anna Pigeon.

While they try to deal with the fragile state of affairs—and find the person behind the harassment—the three adults decide the best thing to do is to remove Elizabeth from the situation. Since Anna is about to start her new post as Acting Chief Ranger at Acadia National Park in Maine, the three will join her and stay at a house on the cliff of a small island near the park, Boar Island.

But the move east doesn’t solve the problem. The stalker has followed them east. And Heath (a paraplegic) and Elizabeth aren’t alone on the otherwise deserted island. At the same time, Anna has barely arrived at Acadia when a brutal murder is committed.

While this does describe the setup, it doesn’t come close to describing the action and complex story that weaves together. Poor Anna! By the end I think she could totally commiserate with John McClane of Die Hard. She’s a physically fit character, but the injuries that she’s had in past stories still plague her at times. As they should! And the choices that she’s made, good and bad, also haunt her. She’s a life-like character that you can relate to.

Boar Island is a good book that will keep you turning pages. I sped right through it. Cyber-bullying, obsession, murder, feuds, high tech, and a harsh environment in a remote location, it’s got it all!

You can learn more about Nevada Barr at: http://www.nevadabarr.com/homepage

 

Interview with Bonnar Spring

by. V.P. Chandler

For today’s blog post I’m interviewing writer Bonnar Spring. Her debut book, Toward The Light, has just been released and it’s already receiving great reviews!

VPC– Hello, Bonnar! First things first. Congratulations of your debut novel! And secondly, I’ve heard that you were raised in Texas. Where are you from? (As a Texan I’m obligated to ask that question. LOL)

Bonnar: I grew up in Beaumont, Texas, where my dad’s family has lived forever. He was a chemical engineer and so was his father. Until I was a teenager, I though all dads were engineers who worked at the refineries!

VPC– That’s so cute. It’s funny how our world views are formed when we’re young. So tell me about the book. It sounds exciting!

Bonnar– Luz Concepcion returns to Guatemala to murder Martin Benavides, the man who destroyed her family. Benavides rose from guerrilla leader to president, and now runs a major drug network. Assisted by the CIA, who has its own reasons for eliminating him, Luz gets a job as nanny to Benavides’ grandson, Cesar. Her plans unravel when she gets caught up in the world of drug traffickers and revolutionaries and falls in love with an expat who keeps as many secrets as she does—and with Cesar, a lonely boy whose world will be ripped apart if Luz succeeds in her mission.

VPC- Everyone asks authors this question, how did you get the idea for the story?

Bonnar: Yeah  🙂 . . . well, in my case, it’s sorta convoluted. Here’s the short version to give the idea and then, I hope, conclude before your readers’ eyes glaze over: Imagine a cocktail party years ago when the Middle East was in turmoil. (Okay, when is it not!) But this happened when a certain dictator was pushing all our buttons, and the conversation turned to a question much on our minds at the time of when/if was it acceptable to kill someone evil, someone who was the leader of another country (Yeah, could’ve been ripped right from 2020 headlines!).

Questions swirled: If you could you do something like that, should you? It started to feel like a personal, moral compass moment: What would I do? And then—how would I make decisions if I was in a situation where all my choices going forward were bad choices?

I’ve worked for many years with refugees and immigrants. In that time, I’ve heard countless stories about hardship, war, fear, family, and escape. I began to think about framing the idea as a story.

I know nothing more than I read in the news about the Middle East, so I transposed the setting to Central America, where I’ve often traveled. It has a similarly tumultuous history of strongmen, violent political factions, corruption, and drugs. The settings in Toward the Light are fictionalized versions of real places in Guatemala.

VPC– I’ve read that you’ve received some nice reactions to the book. It was on the list of Apple Books “Winter’s Most Anticipated Reads” list! I was also impressed that Hank Phillippi Ryan and Hallie Ephron have given it their stamp of approval. Brava!

Bonnar– You know, people say all the time how generous the writing community is. Hank’s and Hallie’s willingness to read the ARC and write a blurb are good examples. I’d met them a few times at MWA events, but it’s not like we were buddies or anything. So I emailed and asked – and both said yes. In fact, I think I sent out about 12 emails in total asking for early readers to write blurbs. Of those, all but 2 or 3 wrote back. A couple of authors were busy with life/books and begged off. The others, including several authors whose books I’d read and enjoyed but never corresponding with, also agreed.

Apple’s “Winter’s Most Anticipated Reads” – now that was a complete delightful surprise!

VPC– So now that it’s been out for about a month and you’ve been at book events, what has it been like? Any surprises? Anything you’ve learned? Any advice for other writers when they go on tour?

Bonnar– Setting up book events is still a little scary, but once I get to a bookstore or library and start talking, signings have been more fun than I expected. I’m not a very outgoing human. I’ve taught at the college level for many years, though, and have a ‘teacher’ persona I can dredge up when necessary. I was initially worried that wouldn’t happen with book stuff, because these events are all about my story, my characters, and me in a much different way than standing in front of a class and talking about gerunds.

Questions that have surprised me so far: Have you ever been to Guatemala? (Seriously? The answer is yes—I don’t know how else I’d have the nerve to write about it.)

And: How much money do you make? (I dodge that one/ The answer is “probably not much,” but I say, “I won’t know anything for months!”)

VPC- So I’ve heard that you’ve been very busy with more writing. You’ve written two more novels?

Bonnar– Yes, I have two other completed mss. One is another international thriller and the other is a mystery. Because I revise endlessly, it will be a while before either is ready to send out into the world.

VPC– Any other advice for writers of thrillers and mysteries?

Bonnar– Being asked to give advice when I’m still so new at this makes me smile. I learned early on what works for one person doesn’t necessarily fit all sizes!

That said, careful editing was invaluable for me in landing an agent and then a book deal. As I said a minute ago, revision is crucial to polishing a ms. It’s not ‘done’ the first time you type The End. Keep at it (put it down for a few months if necessary to return with fresh eyes) until you’ve smoothed out all those not-quite-right spots that nag at you, until the sequence of scenes and transitions is clear, until you’ve eliminated your “filler” words. Btw, my biggest offenders are just, actually, also, and somehow.

VPC– I’m always forgetting about my filler words. Thanks for the reminder! And thank you for granting my request for an interview!

Bonnar– I’ve enjoyed our virtual meeting so much, Valerie!

            VPC– And I’d like to tell all of the people in the Austin area that if you’d like to meet Bonnar, she’ll be at Malvern Books on March 4, 7pm-9pm. Come on by and see her and buy her book!

V.P. Chandler Review of A Dangerous Road: A Smokey Dalton Novel by Kris Nelscott

As with many other books, I’ve been late on the scene with this series and author. A Dangerous Road made its debut in 2001 but I just discovered it recently. I was fortunate that my book club chose it. So not only did I get to read a great book, I got to read an intriguing mystery that kept me turning pages! And I got to discuss it with good friends.

I primarily write historical mysteries, usually Westerns, but this one takes place in Memphis in 1968. A turbulent time and place. There was a lot that I didn’t know about this time and I can tell that Nelscott did her homework. For example, there was a strike among the garbage collectors and trash began to pile up. The smell and inconvenience added to the tension of the story. The impending marches and the arrival of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., are churning up hostilities between the races, and among the races. Add to that a black male P.I. who has a white, attractive, female client, Laura Hathaway, and the tension mounts!

The mystery part of the story is about $10,000. Laura Hathaway demands to know why her mother would leave $10,000 to Smokey. He has no idea. He doesn’t know the Hathaways. Could Mrs. Hathaway have been the anonymous benefactor who left him $10,000 ten year prior? It seems like too much of a coincidence. And why would she do that? Laura decides to hire Smokey to find out about her family background, what secrets they were hiding and how he is involved in it, if he is.

That’s what kept me turning pages. I had no idea where it was going to go!

The book starts with scenes from the premiere of Gone With the Wind in 1940 in Atlanta. (I didn’t know that it premiered there! Did you?) It takes a while until it becomes clear why this event was important to the story. But it’s pivotal.

Which gets me to what I admired most about the book. Not only was it a mystery, but it deftly maneuvered through and around the worlds of 1940 Atlanta and 1968 Memphis. Both eras are complicated. Dalton and the black community have to constantly be alert and careful what they say and do. And not all dangers are outside their own community.

Nelscott dances her way around and through the story, taking the reader with her. I was impressed with its complexity and how she was able to keep the tension throughout. I was not surprised to learn that it won the Herodotus Award for Best Historical Mystery and was short-listed for the Edgar Award for Best Novel.

This reader and writer will definitely be reading more of the Smokey Dalton stories!

Review of Billy Kring’s book Degüello

by V.P. Chandler

I just finished reading Degüello: A Hunter Kincaid Mystery (The Hunter Kincaid Mysteries Book 6) by Billy Kring and have to tell you about it.

My introduction to Billy Kring’s writing began with his first Hunter Kincaid book, Quick, and I was both hooked and blown away.

Hunter is a tough, female border patrol agent who doesn’t back down from a fight. She faces incredibly tough situations with grit and feeling. I love her! She can drink beer and eat spicy tacos with the rest of the guys, on both sides of the U.S. southern border. And her tenacity and instincts are still strong in Degüello.

(Some of you may be wondering what “degüello” means. It can mean, slaughter, massacre, a killing off, or a beheading. Wiki also says that there’s a bugle by the same name. “The Degüello is a bugle call, notable in the US for its use as a march by Mexican Army buglers during the 1836 Siege and Battle of the Alamo to signal that the defenders of the garrison would receive no quarter by the attacking Mexican Army under General Antonio López de Santa Anna.”)

And when you get to the end of the story, you’ll see that this description is appropriate. I don’t know if Kring knew about the bugle when he came up with the title, but it sure fits!

So let’s get to the story. Children are being kidnapped in Mexico and brought to the U.S. to be sold to the sex trade. They are put on an airplane near San Angelo, Texas and transported to other parts of the world. Kincaid comes across the transfer of children along the border and is able to save a child but the kidnappers escape. Then a mother of a missing child begs Hunter to find her daughter. Hunter hesitates because there are rules that she has to follow, but she wants to do what she can to help. Through circumstances, it ends up being all up to her and Ike, a former body guard of a drug cartel kingpin.

The story is full of action and cunning characters. (Poor Ike is taken to the hospital twice.) As the description says on Amazon. “Sorely outgunned and outmanned, but to save the captives, Hunter puts a desperate plan into motion, and what follows is a storm of smoke, fire, and blood, and who will survive is anyone’s guess.”

You can’t beat that!

P.S. As a side note I’d like to add my favorite line that comes towards the end of the book. A character says that Hunter came to the rescue  “Like Wonder Woman charging into No Man’s Land.”

I love Wonder Woman and that’s one of my favorite moments in the movie. And the description is spot on.

So I guess you can tell that I liked it. Go check it out and the other Hunter Kincaid books. Here’s a link to his Amazon page.

Billy Kring on Amazon

The Bosslight Book Store

If you’re ever in East Texas I encourage you to check out The Bosslight bookstore. It’s located in historic down town Nacogdoches so it has a perfect vibe of old and new. Old architecture and new books and art! (Check out the brick paved street. I love it.)

Owner Tim Bryant is an author himself, author of the Dutch Curridge series and the Wilkie John Liquorish Westerns. So you know he has a soft spot for books and wants to help authors and readers connect. (I’m currently reading book one of the Liquorish series and it’s great. Good voice and very suspenseful.)

 

 

Not only does he have lots of books, but he works hard to connect and support people in the community. He has art from local artisans and hosts book clubs, author events, and even music events too.  Did I mention he’s also a musician? Yes! He’s full of talent. So head on over to The Bosslight book store and support a great community! And tell them I said “howdy”!

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Austin Mystery Writers Lone Star Lawless event! Kathy Waller, VP Chandler, Laura Oles, George Wier, Alexandra Burt, Scott Montgomery

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Tim and good friend Joe Lansdale

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Day of the Dark: Stories of Eclipse

 

 

DAY OF THE DARK (Wildside, July 2017)

 

Interview for Day of the Dark

 

Are you excited about the upcoming eclipse on August 21rst? Well you aren’t the only one. And Austin Mystery Writer members, Kathy Waller and Laura Oles, contributed stories to an anthology titled, Day of the Dark. Every story takes place during the eclipse. The idea for the anthology came from the imagination of former AMW member, Kaye George.

Amazon says: A recipe for disaster: take one total solar eclipse, add two dozen spine-chilling mysteries, and shake the reader until the world ends in Day of the Dark!

So if you don’t mind, I’d like to get Kaye George, Laura Oles, and Kathy Waller to tell us more about it.

VP Chandler- Kaye George, where did you get the idea for the anthology?

KG- I got the idea as soon as I heard about the eclipse and how rare they are in any one location. I wanted to write a story on it and thought others might, too.

 

VPC- Nice! This question is for everyone. How did you choose the location of your story?

KW- I had the idea of using Marva Lu, the protagonist from a previous story. She lives in North Texas, so I had to set the story there. I knew the eclipse would darken the day enough for my purposes. The story hinged on her being on her home ground. Away from there, she would be a different person.

VPC- I remember Marva Lu. Wasn’t she is that awesome and amazing anthology, Murder On Wheels? Pretty sure I’m right. 😉 What about your setting, Kaye?

KG- I chose my own neighborhood because I’m so excited that we’ll see the total eclipse right in my back yard. And my front yard, too.

VPC- How exciting! I’m jealous. What about your story, Laura?

LO- Our family has spent many long summer weekends in Port Aransas, and the island life–the slow pace, the mix of locals and tourists, the pull of the ocean–is something I keep returning to. It has its own special magic.

 

VPC- Port A is special. The people are just as interesting as the setting.

Now for question #3, in my experience I’ve worked on some projects that came to me right away and flowed easily, and some projects were painful to get onto the page. Which was it for your story in this anthology?

KG- I’d call this one medium. Not too hard, but didn’t flow like a river.

KW- Once I finally started writing, it flowed. With the time I had, it had to.

LO- I knew immediately where the story would take place and I knew the main character. I needed some time to consider how his life would be turned upside down and what role the eclipse would play.

 

VPC- I know that writers know their characters much better than readers do and they often leave background information out of their stories. Tell us something about your protagonists that the reader doesn’t know.

KW- If the reader has read Hell on Wheels in Murder on Wheels, they probably know as much about the protagonist as I do. Until I wrote I’ll Be a Sunbeam, I didn’t know she sang duets at church, or that she taught Sunday school. I learn things about my characters as I write. I’m sure she likes dogs and cats, but she can’t have a cat because she has a gerbil.

LO- There is more to the story of why he left his life in Denver and moved to the coast.

KG- My protagonist, she’s older than the age she tells people. Her husband doesn’t even know her exact age.

 

VPC- Here’s a question I like to ask other authors.  How much of you is in your antagonist?

KW-  Probably a lot more than I want to admit. Our minds are always buzzing, we’re always arguing with ourselves and with everyone else inside our heads, we’re always plotting. And those are the least objectionable qualities we share.

KG- I’m not sure who the antagonist is. Either the young mother or the young father, I think. They aren’t very good parents, so I hope there isn’t too much of me in them.

LO- Not much similarity between me and the antagonist.

 

VPC- Well, you both like Port Aransas.

Another question, what do you think of the anthology as a whole? Is there one    particular story that is your favorite? Is there a story that surprised you?

KG- As the compiler and editor, I can’t play favorites, but I think there are stories here for a lot of varied tastes. I hope everyone finds a favorite!

KW- Cari Dubiel’s Date Night is mind-boggling. Joseph S. Walker’s Awaiting the Hour is rather sad, touching. Debra H. Goldstein’s A Golden Eclipse surprised me–a clever interpretation of the theme. And Katherine Tomlinson’s The Path of Totality is timely; I laughed until the very end, when alt-facts took a scary turn. If I’d read the other twenty-three stories before submitting, I wouldn’t have had the nerve to send Kaye mine.

LO- What I love about this anthology is the variation. While they all have the eclipse as an important element, each story is different from the others–I’m grateful to be Included with so many other talented authors.

 

VPC- How many of you are planning on seeing the eclipse?

LO- We have the eclipse on the calendar but aren’t sure where we will be yet. The whole family plans on getting together to experience it.

KW- I’m going to Blue Springs, Missouri, near Kansas City, for the event. I have family there. It was my husband’s idea. Fortunately, he arranged for airline and hotel months ago.

VPC- And I know Kaye will see it from her home. Kaye, I think I heard that the profits will be donated to charity? What is the charity?

KG- Fourteen of the 24 authors have picked personal charities. Mine is Earth and Sky. Four other authors, including Laura, are donating to that one, too.

VPC- I love Earth and Sky!

KW- Mine will go to Texas Museum of Science and Technology (TXMOST) in Cedar Park.

 

VPC- That all sounds good to me. Thanks for your time. I can’t wait to get my copy.

 

Available in ebook or paperback: https://www.amazon.com/Day-Dark-Stories-Harriette-Sackler-ebook/dp/B073YDGSL5

 

More websites with information about Day of the Dark:

 

https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2017/07/qaa-with-kaye-george-editor-of-the-anthology-day-of-the-dark

 

https://kayegeorge.wixsite.com/kaye-george/day-of-the-dark-anthology

 

http://thestilettogang.blogspot.com/2017/07/day-of-dark-anthology-debuts-by-debra-h.html

What’s Happening?

Posted by M. K. Waller

The Austin Mystery Writers blog has been quiet for several months, but we’re still living the Writing Life. Here’s what’s been going on.

V. P. Chandler and Laura Oles at the AMW panel discussion, Wimberley Village Library, November 2016

In November, AMW members, along with Scott MontgomeryCrime Fiction Coordinator at MysteryPeople in Austin, appeared on a panel discussing AMW’s crime fiction anthology, MURDER ON WHEELS (Wildside, 2015), at the Wimberley Village Library in Wimberley, TX.

Laura Oles is editing her novel, DAUGHTERS OF BAD MEN, to be published by Red Adept in winter of 2017. Her story “Ocean’s Fifty” will appear in DAY OF THE DARK, an anthology compiled and edited by Kaye George. DAY OF THE DARK will be released by Wildside Press on July 21, 2017, exactly one month before the total solar eclipse that will occur on August 21. Kaye describes the anthology in “More Eclipse Glimpses “ on her blog, Travels with Kaye. Laura also attended the mystery conference Malice Domestic 29 in Bethesda, MD on April 28-30.

In November, V. P. Chandler’s story “Kay Chart” appeared on the MysteryPeople blog. V. P. categorizes “Kay Chart” as historical suspense and says it’s “creepy.” (It is.) She’s now revising GILT RIDDEN, a historical mystery set in the Texas Hill Country. She details more of her activities on her blog.

@ the Writer Unboxed UnCon, Salem, MA, November 2016

V. P. also attended the second Writer Unboxed UnConference in Salem, MA in November. She’s a moderator of the Writer Unboxed website and a contributor to WU’s Author In Progress: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published (Nov. 2017). The book comprises over 50 essays by professionals in all areas of the industry and covers the writing process from pre-writing to post-publication.

 

Patric Sanders

Patric Sanders is working on HOSTILE HARBORS, the third book in the Wolf Richter series, set in New England and New York City, and on a thriller, LETHAL ENCOUNTERS, set in Germany, the Pacific Northwest, Italy and Hawaii. Patric’s first novel, THE TREASURE OF THE BARRIER REEF, an adventure story set in Australia, was published by Random House-Germany. Inspired by events of his life in East Germany during the Cold War era–he witnessed the construction of the deadly Berlin Wall, served as a draftee at a secret radar station in the People’s Army, was harassed by the secret police Stasi, was fired because he ‘fraternized’ with British engineers, and planned an adventurous escape to breach the Wall–he wrote the first two volumes of the Wolf Richter-series: Chasing the Sun: Action-Packed Cold War Thriller and  Singed By The Sun. To learn more about Patric, read V. P. Chandler’s interview with him here.

The House of the Seven Gables, Salem, Massachusetts, November 2016

Kathy Waller’s story “I’ll Be a Sunbeam” will be included in DAY OF THE DARK, along with Laura’s. Kathy’s “The Snake” won the Knife Story Challenge presented to members of Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas chapter by member author Eugenia Parrish. Kathy also attended the Writer Unboxed Unconference in Salem, where she attended a session at the House of the Seven Gables, the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel. After some online confusion with another author writing under the same name, Kathy now writes under the name M. K. Waller.

And–[drum roll!]–the publication of MURDER ON WHEELS (Wildside, 2015), winner of the Killer Nashville 2016 Silver Falchion Award, was such an exhilarating experience that Austin Mystery Writers are now putting the finishing touches on a second manuscript: an anthology comprising stories by four AMW members and eight of their writer friends, tentatively titled TEXAS TOUGH.

So watch this space! When TEXAS TOUGH is ready for reading, you’ll be the first to know.

A Short Story To Jumpstart Your Day

I thought I’d do a little something different today and share a story with you. I like to mix genres, and this one is no different. In our anthology, Murder On Wheels, I wrote a story, Rota Fortunae, set in 1800, about a teen who stowed away on a merchant ship bound for America. There is murder and some supernatural components as well. Intrigued? Buy the book! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) You can find links here on our website.

Today’s story is very short. I had a lot of fun with it. It’s not exactly a mystery, but a western with a twist. I hope you enjoy it.

And I would like to thank Mystery People for featuring it on Crime Fiction Friday on their blog. Thank you!

Photo courtesy of xandert

Photo courtesy of xandert

Kay Chart

“Hurry up with them biscuits and gravy, old woman!”

Cooter laughs and wipes brown spit from the corner of his mouth. Damn if we wasn’t having fun. Things have been going our way since we left San Antone last week even though folks warned us not to venture so far west. Said the Comanche were still riled up after skirmishes with the Rangers.

But I got plans. Plans for me and Becky. And I can’t wait any longer to get money. When I heard she was engaged to that son of a bitch Whitney, it took the wind right outta me. So Cooter and me have been working our way west, raiding homesteads as we go. Since the Comanches have been hitting the farms, we thought we’d do some raiding of our own.

Damn if this old woman ain’t slow. “C’mon now. I’m hungry!” I poke her in the back with my knife to make my point and then laugh while I grab a chair to sit in. “Say, when’s your man coming back from mending the fence? That’s what you said he was doing, right?” It’s easier getting a corncob from a pig than to get an answer outta this woman.

“Uh huh,” she says while stirring the gravy.

Cooter wipes more spit with his shirtsleeve. “Those biscuits smell real good. It’s been a long time since we had us some real food.” He’s always antsy, fiddling with stuff. He starts poking around and finds some hats under the bed. He laughs and puts on a worn out, sweat-stained straw hat that’s way too big. Then he pulls out a dusty pork pie that’s too small. We laugh at that.

Cooter looks around some more while I start getting nervous thinking about the old man returning. I get my rifle and stand on the porch to keep a look out. It’s hot and the wind’s picked up. Sand’s blowing and makes the ground shimmer. I reach up and bat a short length of rope probably used for drying game birds.

My stomach growls. I miss my ma’s cooking. She can cook up a mess of dove like nobody else. Seeing them ropes hanging reminds me of how Ma tried to hang flowerpots on our porch. I guess she thought she’d make our place more livable. But you can’t pretty up a piece of trash. And Pa always tore down anything hopeful she’d ever done.

What a sorry place this is. We come so far west, practically nothing but desert and prickly pear. These old people got nothing – empty pigpens, empty corral, a couple o’ bare trees. One’s blood-stained from slaughtering pigs at one time, still has the rope up.

Movement in the distance catches my eye and I raise my gun. About a quarter mile away I see a damn Indian’s watering his horse at a shallow tank. I can tell he spies me by how he stands up slow-like and keeps looking in my direction. He keeps his eyes on me. I think about riding out to kill him, but I’m running low on bullets. He leaves.

I go back inside. “You know you just had an Indian watering his horse from your tank?”

She turns around and wipes her hands on her apron. Getting a gander at her now, she looks more like a hundred. Her skin’s so old and dry with brown patches and it looks about to crack from the deep grooves. “We let them water their horses and they leave us alone. Apache, Comanche, don’t matter to us. This is the only watering hole for miles. We ain’t got no troubles with them. Sometimes they bring us food. Mostly it ain’t good quality, but we take what’s provided.” She turns back around to her cooking.

Cooter gets all jumpy and wipes his mouth again. His sleeves always have a permanent brown stains. Damn, some people just shouldn’t chew tobacco. “You sure he’s gone? We don’t need no trouble like that.”

I laugh. “Why you worried? We took care o’ that other son of a bitch we saw.” I walk near to the woman and lean against her sideboard while she does a quick peek in the oven. “Yesterday we come across a guy, was he Comanche?” I turn to Cooter, not like he’d know.

He nods. “Maybe Apache, but I think more like Comanche.”

I turn back to the woman. “Anyhow, he tried to run which made us work harder. So that didn’t help my disposition none. But Cooter here’s a good shot and brought him down. Hoo! He was a tough one.” I give that Indian credit, he didn’t break until the last. I let him rest and told him I’d make it easier on him if he told me of a homestead nearby. I know he understood me. He looked right at me and said, “Kay Chart” and he pointed us to this place. When I asked again he pointed us here. I laugh now, thinking how the old woman’s luck went bad on account of an Indian, and her still thinking she might get outta this alive. I wonder if that Indian had some kind of quarrel with her.

“Biscuits are ready.” She pulls them from the stove and starts fixin’ our plates.

Cooter smiles and rubbed his hands together. He spits his chaw onto the floor, ready to eat.

She puts our plates in front of us.

I say, “Bet you don’t get many visitors out here.”

“Not many.”

We dig in and it’s good. This is the life! Forget working yourself to the bone with cows or farming. I’ll get rich, and Becky’ll marry me. I smile at Cooter and he smiles back, cheeks full o’ biscuits. Life is damn good.

Then my mouth starts burning. “You put peppers in this?”

She leans back against her sideboard, arms across her chest. “Not exactly.”

My mouth and throat burn and I spit my food onto my plate. I look over at Cooter and he looks back, tears running down his face and foam starts to coming outta his mouth and nose. His hand goes to his throat and he starts clawing. His eyes are big and he won’t stop looking at me.

I try to drink water but nothing helps. My throat and insides burn. Foam fills my mouth and my throat’s closing up. I look at my rifle, thinking about killing the witch, but my muscles are getting tight and I can’t move. I fall on the floor and started twitching. I’m so stove up, I can’t even blink.

The old woman grabs my heels and pulls me out to the porch and down the steps. It hurts like hell when my head bounces. I try screaming but nothing comes out. I’m too young and nothing to show for it. No more Becky, no more Ma, no more nothing.

The hag drags me across the yard and to the hog-killing tree. Breathing’s getting harder as foam fills by nose and my throat gets tighter. I can’t get no air. I feel her wrap the rope around my ankles and she hoists me up. Bitch is stronger than she looks.

She crouches down in front of me so’s I can see her. She pulls out a butcher knife she had in her apron. “You fool. ‘Kay-chart’ is Comanche for ‘evil one.’”

At least she runs the knife across me quick.

Kaye George Talks About Cooked To Death: Tales of Crime and Cookery

You never know what former AMW member Kaye George is up to! She’s very busy and always working on many projects so I thought I’d ask.

 

VPC- Hey, Kaye George! What have you been up to lately? What’s your latest project? I heard you were in an anthology. Can you tell us a little about it?

 

Kaye George

 

 

KG- It’s Cooked To Death: Tales of Crime and Cookery. It’s an anthology of mostly Minnesota writers. Each writer contributed a crime story and a recipe, and the food was supposed to play a part in the story. I was invited to submit because I know one of the instigators and thought it was a fun project. The editors are Rhonda Gilliland and Michael Mallory. He’s the one I know. An idea I hadn’t used yet would  work for this, I was pretty sure, so I went for it.

 

VPC- Can you give us a little “taste” of your story? ows_147034954442248

KG- My story is called “Murder with Crow.” It features a busybody old lady who has made friends with an intelligent crow. The crow loves her zucchini bread. She has some odd new neighbors with erratic schedules and misses the guy who lived there before. The new neighbors do not appreciate her and that makes her more determined than ever to get more information about them, plying them with more and more baked goods.

 

VPC- Uh oh, I smell trouble brewing (or baking?) Can you give us a few words about the other stories?

KG- The stories are arranged by course, with Appetizers, Soups, Entrees, and Desserts, which I think is cute. The one that stuck in my mind was Pat Dennis’ “After the Before” that concerns a “before” diet picture and a wedding. The stories range from the rather hard-boiled “Shrimp Charmoula: a killer dish” by Carl Brookins, with a knock-down fight scene, and David Housewright’s “Dog Eat Dog” about a business man collecting payments with a snarling wolf, to more moderate stories like “A Fare to Remember” by Marilyn Jax, where two women need to solve their friend’s kidnapping when the police overlook an important clue, even if means missing their day at the fair.

 

VPC- Sounds good! I like an anthology with a variety of stories. Are you working on anything else? Silly question, I know, because you are so busy!

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KG- Another anthology came out October 1st called We’ve Been Trumped from Darkhouse Books. I have a rather post-apocalyptic tale in that one. I’m doing proposals for new series to replace the Fat Cat mysteries that are not being continued. I hope to have good news very soon on that front! I’m also trying to squeeze in a 4th Imogene Duckworthy book.

 

 

VPC- Like I said, always busy! Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. It’s always good to know what our friends are up to.

If you would like to know more about Kaye George, you can find her at  http://kayegeorge.wixsite.com/kaye-george