Isabel Long Mystery Series

My Next Victim

This time, it’s a literary agent in Missing the Deadline, my latest Isabel Long Mystery. Well, it makes sense to choose one given the past year I spent querying agents about a book I pitched.

Missing the Deadline is the seventh book in my series. In my other books, the victims included: a woman who worked in a general store; a junkyard owner; a highway worker who wrote poetry on the side; owner of a small newspaper; a beloved grandson. In Following the Lead, no. 6, that case involved the disappearance of a child many years earlier. 

So let me tell you about Gerald Danielson. He is a hotshot literary agent from New York City who moved to a small hilltown village called Meadows Falls — well, he used to be until he got shot in the head and nearly died. His sister found him on the bench behind their home. 

Due to the way the bullet traveled through his brain and its velocity, Gerald survived but he’s not the same. Police ruled it an attempted suicide, especially since Gerald couldn’t remember what happened when the bullet hit him. His sister, who has taken over the literary agency, doesn’t like for him to try recalling what happened before because it gets him so upset.

Cyrus Nilsson, the noted poet whose first agent was Gerald, has his doubts. So, he hires Isabel to investigate. (You might remember Cyrus was a suspect in the third book.)

And as Isabel — with the help of her 93-year-old mother, Maria, her ‘Watson’ — pursues this case, she finds likely suspects: a vindictive ex-wife, a jilted local writer, and even an apparently devoted sister who lives with him. There are more.

(Full disclosure: I have had two agents in the past, but we parted ways amicably when they couldn’t sell my books.)

This is also an opportunity for Isabel to dig into the publishing industry to better understand people’s motives. Frustrated writers will give this short scene a nod.

I hear the bathroom door open and Ma’s footsteps in the hallway. She gives me a nod as she heads to the counter. She pushes down the toaster’s lever. 

“Are you doing that Google thing?” she asks over her shoulder.

“Uh-huh, I’m reading the agency’s website.” I give a small snort. “I’m on the submissions page. It says authors have to email a query letter, synopsis, and the first ten pages. The response time is up to four months. It says if you don’t hear from them by then, they’re not interested.”

My mother goes to the fridge for milk and jam.

“That’s a long time to wait and get nothing.”

I nod.

“I guess that’s how it works in that business. Sounds like you’d have a better chance of winning the lottery.”

Yes, indeed.

For this case, Isabel has a few chance encounters with Gerald, who she likes. He has a constant aide, Miguel. Plus there’s his cat. One of Gerald’s favorite occupations is sitting on the bench, yes, the same one, that overlooks a deep river valley. He still helps his sister, Wendy, with queries, giving advice on whether a book is worth representing. Gerald will sometimes mix up words.

I enjoyed creating the scenes involving Isabel and Gerald, especially the crucial one toward the end — my lips are sealed on that one.

To make this character’s situation authentic, I relied on Bob Manners, a longtime paramedic who lives in my village of Shelburne Falls. We had two interesting conversations about trauma. Also, I have met two people who had similar shooting experiences.

Here’s another scene from Missing the Deadline. Isabel and her mother are having lunch with author Lyle Baxter, a person of interest, at the Loose Goose in Meadows Falls, when Gerald and his aide unexpectedly come to eat. Lyle introduces Isabel.

I automatically stretch my hand toward Gerald for a shake. I did it all the time when I was a journalist meeting somebody for the first time although hardly as a private investigator dealing mostly with country folk who might think it odd, especially coming from a woman, but it is definitely a natural reflex. Gerald’s hand swings forward to meet mine. 

“Nice to meet you, Gerald,” I tell him. “I’ve met your sister, Wendy. I was at your house the other day.”

Gerald smiles as his hand folds firmly around mine. The skin is warm and soft. The handshake seems like an automatic response for him as well. I imagine him doing it with clients and publishers when he was active in his agency. But it doesn’t appear this greeting is going to end any time soon. I wiggle my hand a little as a sign for him to let go, but Gerald continues his hold. He keeps that smile going. I have his full attention.

“You know me?” he asks.

“No, we just met,” I tell him, smiling back. “How are you today?”

“Ask Miguel. He knows.”

I am unsure what to say next, but Miguel makes a soft chuckle.

“You’re just doing fine today, Gerald,” he says. “Right?”

I note the scar near the temple area on the right side of his head, and I suppose if he turned, I would see the one for his exit wound. Gerald makes a slight grunt and continues to hold my hand. It is a firm but friendly grip, as if we could be walking together hand in hand.

“Nice baby,” he says. “I’m having pie.”

Miguel bends his head forward.

“Gerald, you can let go of the lady’s hand now.” Miguel lips are pressed as he looks at me, and then he says, “Sorry, he can’t help it. He mixes up words.” I give him an understanding nod, before he’s back with Gerald. “Yes, she’s a nice lady. Come on, Gerald. She needs to go.” His voice is kind but firm. “Look. Gloria’s bringing your pie. That’s why we came. Remember?”

Gerald’s fingers lose their grip oh so very slowly. Lyle promises a visit very soon, but Gerald keeps his eyes on me as the waitress sets the plate with a generous piece of apple pie and a scoop of vanilla ice cream in front of him. 

“You know me?” he asks again.

“I do now, Gerald. My name is Isabel Long. Maybe I can visit you some day.”

“Izzie,” Gerald says, and I decide that he is the only person I will let call me that.

“Yes, Izzie,” I say. 

In case you’re wondering about the book I pitched … The Swanson Shuffle was inspired by my experience living and working in a psychiatric halfway house during the time Massachusetts was closing down its state mental hospitals. And, no, I didn’t find an agent or publishing house interested in representing it. Too bad. I feel it’s the best book I’ve written.

Finally, Missing the Deadline will be released Dec. 21 in Kindle on Amazon. (Paperback readers will have to wait a few months.) Until then it’s in the preorder phase. The price: $3.99. I’m touched by those who have preordered since it helps with ratings. So, thank you if you do.

Northern Comfort

Harsh Realities in Northern Comfort

My next book, Northern Comfort, is getting oh-so-close to its July 19 release. This novel is about the harsh realities of rural life in New England.

Willi is a single mother trying to raise her young son, who was brain-damaged at birth. She had a tough childhood after her kind father died in a crash while drunk and her mother married a cruel man who abused Willi. Then she married young.

Now, Willi and Cody live in a cabin left to them by the loving grandfather who took them in after Junior Miller, the boy’s father, abandoned them. Willi’s situation is a desperate one. She’s alone, barely making it. But she’s tough and doing the best she can.

In the opening scene, Willi is home from her job cutting hair at a country beauty shop and hanging clothes on a line in her backyard. It’s the dead of winter, cold and dark, but the job has to get done. She doesn’t have a drier because she can’t afford one.

Willi tries to keep Cody close to her as she works. But then tragedy happens when the boy’s sled quickly takes him in the path of a truck driven by Miles Potter. Willi and Miles have known each other since they were kids, but until the moment her son dies, they were separated by their families’ places in town.

How Willi handles this situation demonstrates her resilience and the kindness of those living in her small town, including Miles. Then, there is Junior, who eventually faces his failings as a father.

That’s what Northern Comfort is about. It’s not the stuff for pretty postcards although I do include a lot of the hilltowns’ traditions like maple sugaring and making old-time music.

By the way, Willi is not based on anyone real. The same goes for all of the characters in this novel. Without sounding like a nut, the story and the people in it came to me as they do with the other books I write. 

Here is a scene from Northern Comfort. The chapter is called “The Buy.” Thanks to donations people gave Willi at her son’s funeral, she is able to buy boots to replace the cracked ones she has.

Willi parked her car next to a display of roof shingles poking through a snowbank outside Fisher Brothers Hardware in Penfield. The store never seemed to change, not since she was a little girl coming here with Daddy to get new works for the toilet or something else to repair their house. She sidestepped the displays of stovepipes and paint cans, the floorboards bending and squeaking beneath her feet. The last time she was here was in the fall when she bought tarpaper to wrap her house and the red sled for Cody. Today, she had two things to buy: a light shade to replace the one her boy broke and a pair of boots, if they were still on sale, as one of her customers told her.

Horace Fisher stood behind the counter, one of three brothers, who were all in their seventies and too stubborn to let the next generation take over. He smiled at Willi. Horace had an extra-long space between his thin upper lip and the bottom of his nose, a common trait among all the Fishers, who lived in Penfield even before it was officially a town centuries ago. 

“Willi, it’s been a while. How are you doing today?”

They made small talk about her errands and the winter as he directed her to the lighting section, where she pondered for several minutes on the selection of glass shades. Horace showed her an opaque shade, a white rectangle with slanted sides. But she had her eye on a round one, its surface engraved like lace, which was twice as much. A few weeks ago, she would have taken Horace’s suggestion, but now she didn’t.

“That’s a nice shade, but I like this one better. Now, I’d like to buy some boots.”

She walked behind Horace, who carried the glass shade to that part of the store. The boots stood in lines on long, wooden shelves. Willi saw a pair of insulated ones from Canada, which cost more than she expected, but they appeared the warmest. She fingered the wool felt lining, thinking of the cold wrapping around her toes whenever she stepped outside. 

Horace cleared his throat. “Well, we were running a sale last week on ladies’ boots, twenty percent off. But I was telling my brother Homer this morning we should extend it another few days. He said it was fine by him.”

She knew the man was fibbing, but it was a nice fib. She sat on a wooden stool to try on the boots. They fit right on her feet. She stretched her legs and rolled the boots on the back of their heels.

“They’re awfully nice. I’ll take them, too.”

At the counter, Horace centered the glass shade on a stack of newspapers and wrapped the sheets to pad it. He tilted his head as he eyed Willi kindly.

“I was sad to hear of your little boy’s death,” he said. “We lost a child, too, a little girl, Pearl, our next to the youngest. She drowned in an irrigation pond. My wife thought I was watching her, and I thought she was. It was such a long time ago.” He shook his head slowly. “It gets better, but you never forget. I don’t think you’re supposed to.”

Willi smiled as she gazed into the man’s eyes, a blue as light as water. Old-timers have manners, she thought, as she opened her purse to complete the purchase.

“I’m so sorry about your little girl,” she said. “Yes, it’s hard these days.”

LINK: Here’s the link to buy Northern Comfort. It’s only $2.99 for Kindle. Thank you if you do. Paperback readers will have to be a little patient.

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:

The Sacred Dog

A Good Guy: Frank Hooker

Yes, Frank Hooker may be a good guy, but he’s also a flawed one in my new book, The Sacred Dog, which is out Dec. 27. That’s what makes him a realistic character in my mind. Let me tell you more.

Frank owns The Sacred Dog, the only bar in Holden, a small, hick town in Western Massachusetts, where the locals like to drink beer and gab about what’s going on in their lives and their neighbors’. He’s a local himself since his family has lived there for generations.

He’s the kind of guy that will greet you with a smile and a welcoming word. He’ll toot his pickup’s horn when he passes somebody he knows. Frank would stop if he saw someone whose car was broken down on the side of the road. If a family in town has a tragedy like a fire or illness, he’d be the first to give. And he’s the type to take in a stray dog and name his bar for the animal.

Frank’s divorced. He thought he and Verona could be happy forever but she was bored with their life and got tempted to cheat with her boss. After the divorce, she took their daughter, Crystal to live in Florida.

A secret in this town: Frank’s not really Crystal’s father. But he married Verona, who he had been dating before, when he found out she was pregnant. Yeah, Frank, who raised Crystal as his own, is that kind of guy. He even made the trip several times to Florida to see her. Now Verona is moving back home after three years. Frank doesn’t quite know what to make of it.

Most people would agree Frank is a good guy, save for Al Kitchen, but he has his reason. Frank unfairly blames Al for his brother’s death. Al and Wes were best buddies who liked to get into stupid trouble. Al was in the car crash that killed Wes, but not at the wheel — a fact Frank won’t accept. He openly hates the man, which naturally doesn’t sit well with Al.

The only reason Frank lets Al come into his bar is because his grandmother begged to let him have two beers. Frank goes along with it because he figures it’s better to keep his eye on someone he doesn’t trust or like. He’s waiting for Al to do something wrong and then he’ll be out for good.

This whole thing is twisted in Frank’s head. I predict nothing good is gonna come from it.

LINK: Here’s how to find The Sacred Dog on Amazon:

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A half pour of IPA brewed by my son Zack at his Floodwater Brewing in Shelburne Falls, Mass. But at Frank’s bar the locals only drink from the bottle.