Many sleuths have a sidekick. When I chose one for Isabel Long, the protagonist in my mystery series, I went for someone unusual — her 93-year-old mother, Maria Ferreira. Yeah, she’s Isabel’s “Watson.” And she’s an important character in the series, including no. 5 Walking the Beat.
Maria Ferreira, or Ma, as Isabel calls her, is a smart and spunky mystery-loving woman. So is the person who inspired her — my own mother, Algerina who is now 97. Being a big reader and a fan of my books, my mother gave her approval when I started the series. Yes, my mother is indeed a character in my Isabel Long Mystery Series.
I also credit my mother for getting me hooked on reading, taking us kids twice a week to the town’s public library to stock up on books. Thanks, Mom.
Both Isabel and her mother, Maria Ferreira are widows. Maria came to live with her in the tiny town of Conwell in Western Massachusetts because both were tired of living alone. Also, Isabel has the most space of her siblings.
It’s been a bit of an adjustment for Maria moving to the sticks, as she calls it, from the state’s seacoast. But the town has a library that supplies her with those mysteries and smutty romances she likes. And she’s found a whole different culture in country living. She’s also a big fan of Isabel’s guy, Jack, who owns the town’s only bar.
Maria likes to stay up late reading and watching TV. Being Portuguese, she makes family favorites like kale soup.
She’s also got a lead foot when she’s driving, or as Isabel says, it’s like her mother is driving the getaway car in a bank robbery. Although in Working the Beat, she admits she’s about ready to give up driving for good. She’ll let Isabel do the driving.
Isabel often takes her mother when she interviews potential clients and even persons of interest, if there’s no danger involved. She counts on Ma’s observations.
And Ma encourages Isabel to continue being a private investigator. Actually, she is just as excited as Isabel about finding new cases to solve. Isabel says she inherited her mother’s nosy gene, which came in handy when she was a journalist. Now, it will help her as a P.I.
Here is an excerpt from Working the Beat. Isabel and her mother are at the Titus Country Fair, when Isabel is approached by Shirley Dawes, who wants her to investigate the death of her grandson.
After a brief discussion, they made plans to meet Shirley at her home.
“What’s your opinion, Ma?”
“I like her. She’s a little rough around the edges like a lot of the people we meet here,” she says. “But it’s about time we found a new case. It was getting a little boring.”
I smile. My 93-year-old mother is game for a new mystery to solve.
“I have to say the woman’s timing is right on, finding you here at the fair and you going to that demolition derby tonight. Maybe somebody there remembers where they found her grandson’s body.”
“It’ll be too dark tonight for photos. But I could come back tomorrow. You, too, if you want.”
“One day at the fair’s enough for me. You can go without me.” She smiles. “But maybe you could bring me back something to eat.”
Then, I have one of those ah-ha moments. Ma spots it, too.
“What?” she asks.
“I just recalled something. Remember those cold case folders I snagged from the newsroom?”
“You think this case could be in one of them?”
“There’s a good chance.”
After a chain bought the Daily Star, those in charge of the newspaper told me I had to reapply for the position of editor-in-chief. It turned out everyone had to do the same, but the request bugged the hell out of me, so I quit instead. I mean I worked for that paper, starting as a freelance correspondent before I clawed my way to the top, where I was the boss for fifteen years. On that last day, the then-publisher — yeah, he lost his job, too, but later — walked me to my desk and kept watch while I emptied the drawers of my personal stuff, plus a bunch of folders I had been keeping. They contained clippings, records, and notes for stories that had unanswered questions although I didn’t tell the publisher that when he perked up and noticed. My first case, the disappearance of Adela Collins twenty-nine years ago, was in one of the folders. None of my other cases were. But I could have held onto the one for Lucas Page.
And now that I’ve talked with Shirley, I recall more details about our previous meeting. The woman wasn’t content to talk with the reporter who covered her grandson’s death. She insisted on meeting the person in charge, the paper’s receptionist told me over the phone. So, I went to the front of the newsroom, introduced myself, and when I recognized she was feeling a bit out of place, I escorted her to my office. I heard her out. It was the same old story I heard from my other cases. The local cops didn’t try very hard. Maybe the newspaper could do better. I recall the disappointment that fell over her face when I told her we couldn’t, and I felt badly about it. Of course, I’m not about to bash the local cops who do their best to keep law and order in their small towns, typically dealing with domestic abuse, petty crime like break-ins, and accidents. Murder isn’t exactly their forte. They call on the state cops for that.
I come to attention when my mother calls my name.
“You there, Isabel, or are you off somewhere else?”
I laugh. Jack says the same thing.
“Uh-huh, I was thinking. It could very well be that one of those folders contains information about her grandson’s case, but I won’t know until we get home. I gesture toward the trailer selling Polish food. “How about I get you a kielbasa sandwich to go? I saw you checking it out earlier. Okay? I’ll go stand in line.” I point toward an empty bench. “You can wait there for me. I shouldn’t take too long. Anyway we gotta get home soon. I’ve got a hot date tonight with Jack.”
My mother smiles.
“I hope he doesn’t mind if you do a little snooping.”
“Oh, I believe Jack’s getting used to it.”
ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE:
That’s a photo of my mother, Algerina, taken about five years ago.
HERE’S THE LINK:
You can find Working the Beat here: mybook.to/workingthebeat