Isabel Long Series

She’s One Tough Cookie

I am, of course, referring to Annette Waters, who has had a continuing role in my Isabel Long Mystery Series since the second book, Redneck’s Revenge. That’s when she hired Isabel to investigate the death of her father, Chet, who died when his shack of a house burned to the ground. She didn’t believe it was an accident.

Right off the bat, Isabel gave Annette the nickname the “Tough Cookie,” although not to her face. After all, the woman runs a garage and junkyard she inherited from her father. Plus, Annette is one woman you don’t mess around with. She’s a single mother who got pregnant in high school and raised her son by herself via a regimen of so-called tough love. (The father is a local drug dealer who wouldn’t be the ideal role model in her mind.) She was married oh-so-briefly to another local guy and since then, enjoys the full company of any man she likes. And being an attractive woman in her late 30s, she has plenty of men interested in her.

Annette’s what I would call a hot ticket. She doesn’t take crap from anybody and isn’t afraid to dish it out, with humor, of course. She and her cousin, Marsha, aka the Floozy, (Isabel is fond of giving people secret nicknames) own the Pit Stop, a small convenience store with gas pumps in the hill town of Caulfield. Her son, Abe, lives in the back. He also works with his mother in the garage and at the store. She’s trying to teach him to be a responsible adult, in her own way.

And in case you’re wondering, Annette is not based on anyone I know. She comes totally from my imagination although I will admit knowing women who have as much spunk as her.

Both Isabel and her mother are fond of Annette. She is also a great source of information for Isabel’s cases. Frequently, she will contact her to find out the local dirt. She’s been helpful as the series goes on. I am currently writing no. 7 and, of course, she’s in this one. I like her too much to let her go.

Oh, by the way, Annette paid Isabel with free mechanical service for life. Her former boss got the same deal.

Annette’s new pastime is being the lead singer in a band she appropriately called the Junkyard Dogs. Her son, Abe plays drums and the guitarists are mechanics from another garage. The band plays at the Rooster on Fridays nights when Isabel is tending bar, and at Baxter’s another local watering hole. 

Here’s I’ll give you an excerpt from Following the Lead, no. 6 in the series, that features the Tough Cookie. Isabel’s mother, Maria, her partner in solving crime, has decided she no longer wants to drive, so she is selling her car to Annette’s son, Abe.

Annette and Abe walk up the front path. This is a first for Abe, but Annette has been here before, when she hired me for my second case, plus another time with Marsha for my mother’s birthday party, which shocked my daughter Ruth a bit but their appearance made for a lively event. 

But this time it’s for business. Annette nods at Abe and growls something under her breath I don’t catch before he hands my mother a fat envelope filled presumably with cash, a figure the two of them arranged without my input. Ma bought the car from Annette after I totaled the one she brought here. Hey, it wasn’t my fault. I had an alleged murderer trying to run me off the road.

“Do you want to count it, Mrs. Ferreira?” Abe’s face reddens. “It’s the amount we agreed to over the phone.”

My mother and Abe had a telephone conversation? This is news to me. Ma has the car’s title, plus a bill of sale I created on my computer ready. 

“Here you go Abe,” my mother says. “It’s all yours.”

Annette gives her son the evil eye. She’s been working hard to train him to be a good adult in her own way, giving him a job and a place to live in the apartment behind the Pit Stop, the convenience store she co-owns. And now, he’s the drummer in the Junkyard Dogs. I half expect her to slap his arm and grumble, “What do you say?” But Abe beats her to it with a genuine thanks to my mother as he takes the paperwork, gives my mother an awkward hug that startles my non-hugging mother, and with a quick bow of his head, he’s out the door to get to work.

The Tough Cookie takes a seat.

“How’s your new case goin’?” she asks.

“I’m just getting started. This one’s gonna be tough.”

She shakes her head after I tell her about my new case.

“Don’t know anythin’ about that one. Almost fifty years ago? Really?”

I’m not surprised Annette hasn’t heard about the kidnapping. Given she’s in Caulfield, a few towns north and west of where I live, she has access to a different set of locals. Caulfield and Jefferson have few if any connections. No one from one town would go to the other unless they had kin living there. And I would wager Caulfield has more natives percentage wise than Jefferson, which has become a semi-suburb of Hampton, the county seat.

But then again, Caulfield and the towns around it would be a great place for a man or woman with a past to hide out. Plus, she and her cousin, Marsha own the Pit Stop, the only gas station and convenience store for miles. She’s lived there all of her life, and like a lot of the natives, she keeps tabs on the newcomers.

 “You ever hear of a man named Tim Todd or Robert Todd? He is or was a musician. Plays the piano.”

“There’s a guy named Robert Todd who comes into Baxter’s. Sometimes he plays the piano. He’ll come in on a Sunday or sometime when there’s not a lot of people. He seems rather harmless, quiet and kind of a loner.”  She stops and laughs when she realizes she just used a description for people who are often guilty as hell. “Anyway Dave lets him play. You should talk with him about the guy.”

My mother chuckles. I can read her mind. I can’t escape talking with Dave Baxter about a case it seems.

“What’s he look like?”

“He’s kinda old. White hair, lots of it. Not bad lookin’ for his age.” She shakes her finger. “And he has the longest damn fingers I’ve ever seen. He doesn’t play the kind of music the regulars like. It’s that highbrow stuff. You look excited there, Isabel. You, too, Maria.”

I nod.

“He definitely sounds like the guy I’m looking for. Any idea where he might live?”

“No, I don’t. You could ask Marsha if he comes into the Pit Stop for gas. She’s there more than me. I bet Dave Baxter will know.” She gives me a sly laugh. “He won’t mind you askin’.” 

Annette is clearly alluding to the obvious crush Dave has on me. 

“That might be a good time to tell him we’re going to live with Jack,” my mother says. “Fred’s moving out.”

“You two?” She snorts a laugh. “How come I don’t know about this?”

I try to conceal my surprise. I don’t want my mother to feel badly about blurting out the news, but some damage control is needed here.

“Uh, because it just happened and we haven’t told anybody. There’s stuff to work out. If you don’t mind, Annette, could you keep it to yourself please? But when people start talking about it, you can tell them you already knew. Okay?”

Annette leans back in her seat as she focuses on the living room window.

“Will do. Abe’s got the car hitched up. I gotta check to make sure he did it right. I don’t wanna lose the car on the way.” She stands and knocks the table top with a fist. “Nice to see you both, and I’ll make sure Abe takes real good care of your car, Maria. Gotta get back to the junkyard. Somebody’s droppin’ off a Crown Vic. I’m keepin’ that one for myself for next year’s demolition derby.” She laughs. “This time I’m gonna make sure I win. Gary Beaumont better watch out.”

“See you around,” I tell her, and then I remember something I want to ask her. “When’s your next gig at the Rooster? My mother wants to hear you play.”

Annette smiles at Ma.

“You do, do you? Jack’s kinda booked, so I hope soon. We’re playing at Baxter’s two  Saturdays from now. Why don’t you come, Isabel?” She makes a chuckle that contains a large amount of mischief. “I’m sure Dave would love it.”

“I’m sure he would.”

LINK: Here’s the link to buy Following the Lead, no. 6 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, now available in Kindle and paperback — You can find the paperback at Barnes and Noble:

And thank you if you do. That’s the cover above by the way.

SPECIAL THANKS: I am grateful for the services of Travis Johnston, owner and web architect at Creo Coding — Web Design and Development for rescuing my website. I couldn’t log in for days and Travis not only figured out the problem, he upgraded every part that needed to be done. He lives in my village but, eh, the internet is international. Here’s his website:

Following the Lead, Isabel Long Series

Following the Lead: How It Begins

This novel was an easy one to get started. Afterall, Following the Lead, No. 6 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series that has a Nov. 3 release, starts minutes after No. 5, Working the Beat. I am not going be a spoilsport and reveal how that one ends. But I will say Isabel and her mother, Maria aka her “Watson” are on their way back home with an envelope filled with papers in the back seat.

I will give you more about that in a bit, but I wanted to talk about beginning a novel or at least, how it works for me. Without sounding like a total nut, they just come to me when I sit down at my desk. Later, while I may change a word here and there, I’ve kept each one.

My aim is to catch up readers (without giving away stuff to those who haven’t read the previous book/books) and get them into the action of the next one. I know what I like to read and hope to provide that experience to readers of this series.

In Chasing the Case, the first, Isabel is in her back yard digging a grave for a beloved pet cat while it is snowing. As she puts that shovel into the ground, she reflects on the past year, which I use to let readers know where she’s at. Isabel’s a recent widow. She lost her job running a newspaper and her 92-year-old mother has come to live with her. But as importantly, we learn that she wants to investigate on her own a 28-year-old mystery in her small town — and her first big story as a rookie reporter. 

(By the way, this book got rejected by a publisher because I was told that I broke a cardinal rule that you don’t kill off pets in books. I wrote back that writers are supposed to break rules.)

In the second, Redneck’s Revenge, Isabel meets Lin Pierce, who will be her boss of sorts. Isabel found out she just can’t investigate crimes on her own. Right away, she takes on her first legitimate case: Annette Waters, a junkyard owner, hires her to investigate the death of her father who supposedly was too drunk to get out of his shack of a home when it caught fire.

In Checking the Traps, the third, Isabel is tending bar at the Rooster with one arm after she was hurt when her car was run off the road in the previous case. Lots of questions from the customers, and then she gets a call from Gary Beaumont, a suspect in her last case who wants to hire her. 

In Killing the Story, the fourth, Isabel attends a funeral for the town’s police chief, but the next day she’s at a pig roast at the Pit Stop convenience store when she is approached by the editor/co-owner of a small town newspaper. He believes the death of his mother, who had the position before him, wasn’t accidental. Of course, with her background, it was an easy sell for Isabel.

In Working the Beat, the fifth, Isabel is losing badly at poker with Jack, the owner of the Rooster, during a dead night at the bar. Everybody is at the Titus Country Fair. The next day she’s there with her mother when she is approached by an old woman, whose beloved grandson was found dead after the demolition derby four years ago.

So what about the sixth, Following the Lead? Here is the very beginning.

Lin Pierce said not to open the envelope he gave me until I get home, but since when do I listen to what my old bosses tell me? I bet he said it only as a test, a tease, or knowing Lin, a joke. The manila envelope’s contents have been on my mind since he handed it to me in his office and said, “It’s your next case.” And there it sits on the back seat of my car, bugging the heck out of me to stop and rip it open. Thanks a lot, Lin.

“Do you think it’s another unsolved murder?” my mother asks after she gives the fat envelope another glance.

My mother and I are on our way home after I stopped to see Lin at his office. I shipped her to my brother’s home when things got a little bit scary with the last case, but now she’s back, and it appears ready for the next one.

“No clue,” I answer.

Ha, my mother, who you may know as my partner in crime, that is solving them, is as nosy as I am. When I was a kid, she kept a close eye and ear on the neighborhood where I grew up in the eastern part of this state. In those days, the town would broadcast the location of a fire by a series of loud horns, and my mother would look them up in a booklet she kept on a table beside her comfy chair. She would announce the street and number where the fire was happening, although one summer when the call was for a business several streets away from our home, we walked there in the middle of the night to watch. The only difference between my mother and me, regarding nosiness, is that I turned it into a profession, journalism. As a reporter, then editor, being nosy is a job requirement. Now I use that trait as a private investigator solving cold cases in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts where we live. So far, I’ve solved five, and now it appears I will be moving onto number six sooner than I expected.

“You looked really excited when you left Lin’s office,” my mother says.

“Uh-huh. Lin wouldn’t give me a case that isn’t worth pursuing. He knows better than that.”

Ma checks over her shoulder again.

“I guess we’ll find out soon enough.”

Hmm, not soon enough in my mind.

My mother and I have been talking about what could be inside that envelope ever since we left Lin’s empty office in Jefferson. He’s officially out of the private investigation business now that he’s sold it to Bob Montgomery, the retired state cop who’s still interested in solving crimes. Once a cop, always a cop although as a private investigator, he can’t arrest people or shoot them. Lin, who I would rightly describe as a bit of a fuddy-duddy, isn’t what comes to mind when I think of a P.I., certainly not the ones I’ve seen in movies and TV shows or read about in novels. He didn’t solve crimes but took insurance cases, usually on behalf of the company trying to disprove one. It wasn’t until I came on board earlier this year that he ventured into crime. Actually, I did the criminal part. I earned a buck a day and he got a cut of what I made from my client, including the case where I was paid free mechanical service for my vehicles for life. Lin does, too. That was the deal I made with Annette Waters aka the Tough Cookie when I investigated her father’s death in case number two.

From now on, I will get two bucks a day from Bob Montgomery. His stipulation for buying the business was that I come with it. No, I’m not an indentured servant, but Bob likes the zip I added to Lin’s business. Certainly, my solving those mysteries gave Lin’s business some badly needed publicity after my cases were written up in the local newspapers and even covered by a couple of TV stations. As for me, Bob’s offer is likely the best and only one I could get to continue what I love doing. I didn’t bother applying to other private investigation firms since I need an arrangement that doesn’t take me away from my mother, who is ninety-three. Besides, I want to investigate cases that interest me and I sure as heck don’t want to work full time because I plan to keep my part-time gig tending bar at the Rooster on Friday nights.

I tip my head toward the back seat.

“He said it was an old case. Maybe it was before he started doing business with those insurance companies.”

“Could be something personal, Isabel.” 

“Now that would be interesting.”

HOW TO GET FOLLOWING THE LEAD: The official release is Nov. 3 for Kindle on Amazon, but pre-ordering — and thank you if you have done that — is appreciated. Pre-order now and the book will magically appear in your device on that day. I will be frank that selling books that one writes is a numbers game and pre-orders help with rankings. The price is $3.99. (If you have Kindle Unlimited, I will get paid for pages read.) Now about paperbacks … there will be a bit of a wait, per my publisher’s policy, but I will let you know when that happens. Here’s the link:

Here is the one for all of the Isabel Long Mystery Series:

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A great sky from our front porch.


Darkstroke Books, Isabel Long Mystery Series, Isabel Long Series

Moving Over to the Dark Side

I am happy to announce that my Isabel Long Mystery Series is now in the hands of Darkstroke Books. Darkstroke is an imprint of Crooked Cat Books, which is the series’ original publisher.

While Crooked Cat published mystery, romance and other genres, Darkstroke, as its name implies, focuses on the darker things in life: crime fiction, mysteries, thrillers and dystopian, sci-fi and horror.

Yes, welcome to the dark side.chasing the case full size

I am grateful to Laurence and Stephanie Patterson for taking on the first Isabel Long book — Chasing the Case — and for sticking with the series. I can’t tell you how many publishing houses and agents I approached, sometimes getting a nice rejection, most of the times just a cold shoulder. I still laugh about the publishing house that rejected my first book, Chasing the Case, in part because I broke a supposed rule by killing off a pet. Actually, Isabel Long, my protagonist, was digging a grave for her cat.

Thank you, Laurence and Steph.

I knew when I signed on in late 2017 that Crooked Cat Books, which is based in France, was going to end in four years. The Pattersons were upfront about it. But I decided I would see where this would lead. And so I wrote two more books — Rednecks Revenge full sizeRedneck’s Revenge and Checking the Traps — that Crooked Cats published.

Three is a good number for a series. But, frankly, I can’t let go of Isabel and the rest of my characters. I love them too much, even the bad guys. And not to sound like a complete nut, they are very real to me.

And so I am working on the fourth, Killing the Story — yes, another journalistic term. As I’ve posted before, this one’s taking a bit longer because of my full-time job as editor-in-chief of a daily newspaper. But I’m more than two-thirds of the way done. Most weekdays I am up at 5:30 a.m. to write before I head to the newsroom. I have more time on the weekends.

For the past several months, I’ve been wondering what will happen to this series. Would another publisher be interested in picking up my new book when the rest of the series is under contract? Would it be willing to buy out my contract? Should I self-publish again? Ah, the business of writing.

And then Laurence emailed me an invitation last week asking if I wanted to join Darkstroke. When I thought it over that night, it made sense to move the series there. I can concentrate on the books I Checking the Traps full sizewant to write and promote them . Yes, I have ideas for two more books after I finish Killing the Story.

Plus, I admire the other authors from Crooked Cat Books who have moved over to Darkstroke. One of the pluses of being part of an international house is getting to know authors on the other side of the pond. I suggest you check out their books. Find them on

If you haven’t read my books, head to Amazon for a copy either in paperback or kindle. I have a few others that I self-published there. Here’s the link: Joan Livingston on Amazon

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s the harbor in Mattapoisett, Mass. in December.


Checking the Traps, Isabel Long Series

Up Next: Checking the Traps

I have news for fans of my Isabel Long mysteries series. The launch of the third book — Checking the Traps — is getting closer. My publisher and I haven’t set a date yet, but expect an announcement in the next few weeks. Right now, I’m working with my editor on the final edits. A cover is in the works.

With two cases under her belt, Isabel Long is ready for her third. So, is her ‘Watson’ — her mother, Maria, who turns 93 in this book. Isabel is a bit banged up from her last case. I won’t reveal how it happened for those who haven’t caught up with the second, Redneck’s Revenge, but I will say her souvenir from that case is a broken collarbone. Isabel spends the entire third book with her arm bound up in a sling. Fortunately, she only needs one to pour beer at the Rooster Bar.

Then she gets an intriguing call from an unlikely person — Gary Beaumont. As you may recall from the second book, Gary and his brother, Larry, are drug dealers who terrorized Isabel. The brothers live in a dump of a house and have the manners of feral dogs. But for reasons I won’t divulge here, Isabel has grown fond of them.

Anyway, Gary wants Isabel to find out what happened to their half-brother, Cary. He doesn’t believe for a second that Cary jumped off a bridge in a neighboring town that is known for suicides. He is sure somebody murdered him.

Cary was a bit of a boozer who worked on a local highway crew. But what clinches it for Isabel is that he was a sensitive soul who wrote poetry in his spare time. The chief suspects are one of Gary’s business associates and a famous poet who plagiarized his brother’s poetry for an award-winning book. Yes, Cary was that good.

One of the reasons I so enjoy writing this series is that it gives me a great excuse to hold onto the characters I love. They have become dear to me even the bad guys. That certainly includes Gary and Larry.

So who else is back? Jack, the owner of the Rooster and Isabel’s guy, of course. So are Annette aka the Tough Cookie and Marsha aka the Floozy, plus the Old Farts, those snoopy old guys in the backroom of the general store. There are a few more.

Who’s new? The people Isabel interviews for this case, including the plagiarizing famous poet.

Over the next few months, I will be posting stories here and elsewhere about Checking the Traps. It’s all part of my concerted effort to get you all interested in Isabel Long’s next adventure.

P.S. I am currently working on the fourth. Isabel sure likes to get herself in trouble.

FIRST TWO BOOKS: Need to catch up with the series? Here are the links:

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Lake Fitzgerald in Northampton, Mass., where were took a recent hike.



Isabel Long Series, Writing

Mystery Series: Why I Write in First Person, Present Tense

When I decided to write a mystery, I wanted it to be told from the point of view of my protagonist, Isabel Long. And now that I released the second, Redneck’s Revenge, I am glad I stuck with that format. I also used present tense because I want my readers to feel they are part of the action but more about that later.

First, let me tell you about Isabel Long. She’s a former long-time journalist who is trying her hand at solving mysteries. After all, she has a lot of time on her hands after she lost her job managing a newsroom when the paper went corporate. Besides, her first case was also her first big story as a rookie reporter — and one of the cold case files she snagged from the newsroom on her last day.

Isabel is savvy and sassy. She’s got a great sense of humor. She doesn’t take crap from anyone. But she is a great listener and can relate well with others. Basically, she takes what she knew as a reporter and applies it to being an amateur sleuth. This comes in handy because her second case takes her to a town she is unfamiliar with and also a rather rough group of folks.

For that case, a woman hires her to find out how her father died. The cops say he was drunk when his house caught fire. She says he was murdered. Could it be the work of two drug-dealing brothers, a rival junkyard owner, or an ex-husband? Isabel is going to find out.

Anyway, I wanted you to get the full picture of Isabel by letting her talk her way through my two books so far in this series — Chasing the Case and Redneck’s Revenge. The third, Checking the Traps, will be released next year.

I also wanted my readers to focus on Isabel. I know I sometimes get a little lost when there are so many POVs in a novel I’m reading. I sometimes have to remind myself who the character is.

Why present tense? It can be tricky to write. I have written only one other book, as yet unpublished, that way. But I believe it works with Isabel because sometimes she even talks directly to the reader.

Here’s an excerpt from Redneck’s Revenge, to put you in the mood. In this scene, she’s meeting with Lin Pierce, a licensed private investigator.

All right, Lin, enough with the dillydallying. Let’s get on with it.

“As I said over the phone… ”

He waves his hand.

“Yes, that. You said you want to work for me to fulfill one of your requirements to get a P.I. license.”

“That’s right.”

“So, what would make you qualified to be an associate? Have you ever worked in law enforcement?”

I shake my head.

“A cop? No. I was a journalist for over thirty years. I started as the Conwell correspondent for the Daily Star. Adela Collins’ disappearance was my first big story.” I watch his head bounce in recognition. “I knew how to chase a story. I found the pieces and put them together. I believe the skills are transferable, except I’d never carry a gun or wrestle anybody to the ground.”

He squints as he thinks.

“I recall reading your stories. Didn’t you used to run the paper?”

“Uh-huh, for fifteen years until it got bought out,” I say. “As I explained over the phone, I’m not looking to take your cases although I’d be willing to help if you need it. I’ll find my own.”

“Well, I’ve never hired anybody and frankly, I couldn’t afford you if I did.” His voice drops. “I’d say I’m semi-retired. I own this building, so it’s convenient to keep an office. It helps with taxes.”

I was prepared for this.

“How about a buck a day? Could you afford that?”

He chuckles.

“You work cheap, Isabel.”

MORE: This post appeared first in Zooloo Book Blog as part of a tour in Rachel’s Random Resources.

BOOKLINKS: Thank you if you have already read my books. If not here’s where you can find them on Amazon: and

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A creative use of old screwdrivers. Piece of art found outside a studio on State Street in our village of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.