Isabel Long Mystery Series

Who’s New in the Series

I mean the characters in Following the Lead, next in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. As those who have read my books know, I have many who appear in every or nearly every book: Jack, the owner of the Rooster and Isabel’s love interest, of course.; the Old Farts; Annette aka Tough Cookie; the Beaumont brothers. Even ex-police chief Jim Hawthorne aka Thorny, an appropriate name because he’s a thorn in Isabel’s side, lingers in this series.

But fresh blood is welcome. And that’s what happens in each book, including this one, which had a Nov. 3 release.

First, a refresher of Following the Lead’s plot: Isabel’s old boss, Lin Pierce was a boy when his baby sister was abducted from the front yard and never found. He was supposed to be watching her but he got distracted. Lin hopes Isabel can bring closure and perhaps find his sister.

So who’s and what’s new? We do get see a different side to Lin, who hired Isabel in the second book at the ridiculous rate of a buck a day. But it was an arrangement that was OK because Isabel had to work for a licensed P.I. for three years before she could strike out on her own. In Following the Lead, we meet Lin, the distraught and hopeful brother.

We also get to know his parents, Ben and Jessica Pierce. Ben we know under his alias, the Bald Old Fart. The abduction of their daughter severed that marriage. Ben also had issues with his son, blaming him and his ex-wife for the baby’s abduction. But he goes along with Isabel taking on this case because he knows her from her visits to the backroom of the general store where the Old Farts gather.

Jessica is less enthused. A musician, at the time she was giving a lesson to a student who would later go onto to be a well-known pianist. She is a bit uneasy about Isabel’s line of questioning, actually more than that, but I won’t spoil what happens there.

Then, there is the well-known musician, Tim Robert Todd. He’s retired now and happens to live in Caulfield near Gary and Larry Beaumont. Isabel believes he’s key to the investigation but has a hard time meeting him. For much of the book, his reputation precedes him, but that changes dramatically.

Then, there’s the person responsible for stealing Baby Elizabeth, as she became to be known. Like the musician Tim Todd, they are part of this mystery’s unfolding. Of course, there are sources Isabel meets like two former neighbors.

Here’s an excerpt. Isabel and her mother, her partner in solving crimes, are meeting with Lin Pierce at his home. He reveals his father is Ben Pierce, aka the Bald Old Fart and the strife his sister’s abduction created for the family.

And now that Lin has shared that information, I see the family resemblance in the facial features between the two men although Lin still has some hair and the Bald Old Fart, one of the older members of the group, is heavier. I wonder if he has an inkling his son wants me to pursue this case because he was oddly quiet during my last visit to the store’s backroom. I don’t go every week, just when I need their help with a case or for a little local levity. 

“I do know your father. Is he aware you want to solve this case about your sister?”

“Let’s say my father and I aren’t very close, but I told him. I felt I had to. Besides, he may have useful info he hasn’t shared with me. At first, Dad wasn’t happy about it, but he changed his mind when I told him it would be you. He said he was impressed how you handled your other cases.”

“That’s nice of him.”

“Oh, and just so you know, I paid for one of the services where they use your DNA to tell you about your ancestors.” He frowns. “That didn’t turn up any long lost family members or even the ones I have. But it was worth a shot.”

“Glad you told us that,” I say. “Ma?”

As planned, I let my mother ask a few questions. She reminds him we would need a list of other persons of interest. It gives me the opportunity to think about the Bald Old Fart and how I should handle him. Certainly, the other Old Farts must know his back story since they all grew up in the hilltowns. The Bald Old Fart is married to a local gal, his second wife it seems. He taught math at a local high school and is retired like his backroom pals. If my memory serves me better, I believe my son, Alex, the engineer had him in class. Maybe even my daughter, Ruth. Matt, the heavy equipment operator, didn’t as he went to a vocational high school. I will have to quiz them the next time we are together although Ruth won’t like it that I took another case. She worries about my safety too much. Alex and Matt? They actually think it’s cool their mother is a P.I. Thank you, boys.

“That must have been hard on you as a young boy,” I hear my mother say. “I take it your parents didn’t have another child.”

“No, they didn’t. My father didn’t when he got remarried. My mother never married again. Once was enough. And, yes, it was hard on me as a kid. Really hard.” He clears his throat. “I heard it over and over from my father. Why did I have to leave my sister to go chase a stupid dog? Why didn’t I check with my mother to make sure she had her? Why did I make a big fuss when she asked me to watch her? The list goes on. I tell myself I was only eleven. Just a boy. Dad has tried to make it up to me in his way. Sometimes it helps.” He looks at me directly. “Here’s why I am hiring you. I want to know for sure what happened to my sister. If she’s alive, I want to meet her, to tell her about her real family. If she isn’t, I want to grieve for her like a brother would.”

“You mention in your notes about meeting a woman you thought could be your sister. I saw the photo you took of the woman at Luella’s. But I couldn’t make out her face very well.”

“Unfortunately, that was the best I could do under the circumstances. Plus, it was a piece of crap phone.”

My mother speaks, “What features did she share with your mother?”

“The eyes definitely. One was blue and the other brown, a trait on my mother’s side that unfortunately I didn’t inherit. And the long nose. She had what I would call an elegant face. When you meet my mother, you will understand.” 

As I jot down that detail, I have to ask the all-important question.

“Does your mother know that you want to hire me to investigate this case?”

“Yes, we’ve talked it over. She’s fine with it.” He pauses. “But she wants to meet you and your mother alone the first time without me. I understand. I believe she’ll be more comfortable talking with you than me. Maybe there are things she doesn’t want me to know. I’ve tried in the past but she pushed me aside. Too much pain, I believe. I was surprised she didn’t resist when I brought it up recently. She, of course, knew of your success. That won her over.”

“When can we meet her?”

“She mentioned Wednesday. I’ll give you her number before you leave, so you can set up a time.”

I glance at my mother, who gives me a nod. A day of surprises for certain.

“Yes, that would work for us.”

“I will let her know.” He finishes his glass of water. “So, how would you two like to go for a ride? I’d like to show you my old neighborhood.”

“Please do,” I say. “I did bring a copy of that map you gave me.”

Lin nods.

“Too bad someone with your brains wasn’t investigating this case when it happened.”

My mother speaks up.

“Yes, it is.”

LINK: Thank you for those readers who have already downloaded Following the Lead. Here is the link to buy it on Amazon: https://mybook.to/followingthelead Paperbacks will be out soon.

PHOTO ABOVE: Saw this birdhouse on a recent walk. The hole wasn’t big enough for whatever bird wanted to nest there so it did a renovation.


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Isabel Long Mystery Series, Uncategorized

Staying in Character

Great actors are famous for it. We the viewers forget the actor and only see the person they are playing on stage or screen. Some even take it a step further and stay in that role off camera.

But writers like myself have more than one character to consider. We get into their skin, so what they say and do are authentic to the stories we write.

My Isabel Long Mystery Series is written as a first-person present-tense narrative. Isabel is a smart, mature woman who is a bit of a wise ass. As a former journalist, she developed the ability to see through people and any bull they try to dish her. Just like reporting a new story, she’s methodical about her cases. I will admit there is a lot of me in Isabel although I am not a widow and I never worked as a private investigator. I don’t like that much danger.

It’s rather easy for me to figure out what Isabel will do in any given scene or situation whether it’s solving a mystery, pouring beer at the Rooster, being with its owner Jack or dealing with her family, including her mother, Maria, her partner in solving crime. 

In Following the Lead, she’s given a tough case. Her old boss, Lin was just a boy when his baby sister was stolen from the front yard and never found. That was nearly 50 years ago. So how should Isabel approach such a case? I channel Isabel and we figure it out together.

But, of course, Isabel isn’t the only character in this series. Some are one and done in a book. Many others have stuck around. As each one appears on a page, I channel that character so know how they should react to any situation I throw at them. 

Take Annette Waters aka the Tough Cookie. She wouldn’t be shy about anything. If someone dared to give her a hard time, she’d dish it back and twice as hard. But then again she runs a garage and junkyard. There’s her cousin, Marsha aka the Floozie who co-owns the Pit Stop convenience store. She’s another one who doesn’t take crap from anyone. Both are locals but they’ve grown fond of Isabel and her mother even though they are newcomers. 

It doesn’t matter the character’s gender. I know what will come out of Jack Smith’s mouth before he says it. Jack’s cousin Fred Lewis aka el Creepo typically says the wrong thing. He’s a bit of an idiot as demonstrated by what he does in Following the Lead

I believe the best training I received — like Isabel — was as a journalist. I had to listen carefully to what people said and observe how they behaved. It was a great experience that I believe has paid off with authentic characters. I hope my readers feel the same way.

LINK: Nov. 3, release date is getting oh so close. Here’s the link for Following the Lead: https://mybook.to/followingthelead

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Saw this along State Street in Shelburne Falls near Floodwater Brewing. Isabel Long would find it amusing.

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Isabel Long Mystery Series

Making a Pit Stop

FIRST THINGS FIRST: My website was out of order for over two days when I foolishly “hit all” when updating its plugins. As a result, viewers would see that accursed white screen of death and I couldn’t log on to my website to fix it. I read countless articles and watched videos etc. No luck there. But thanks to Shivam, with tech support for GoDaddy who likely lives halfway around the world, and step-by-step emailed instructions from Travis Johnston of Creo Coding who lives in my village, I finally figured it out. A big relief for sure. Now onto the content I had hoped to file Friday.

I can’t think of a better name for a convenience store in the middle of nowhere than the Pit Stop. It came to me in an inspiring moment when I was writing Redneck’s Revenge, no. 2 in the Isabel Long Mystery Series. That’s before the previous owner got himself into a heap of trouble, and in the next book, it got sold to cousins Annette Waters and Marsha Dunlop with Marsha’s guy sort of a silent partner. 

This is what I imagine when I think of the Pit Stop. It’s kind of a shack with pumps out front and a parking lot large enough to hold a pig roast, which is what happens for an open house in book no. 4, Killing the Story. Annette’s son, Abe lives in a small apartment in the back. The store offers the usual assortment of staples, such as milk, cigarettes, and beer.

The décor is what I would call country chic. Besides the usual beer signs in the window — like the one above that I photographed on a local convenience store — and on the walls, it has a mounted deer head and pheasant inside instead of the NASCAR paraphernalia the previous owner displayed. The Pit Stop prefers cash and you gotta pay before you pump. Gas prices are a little higher here, but it’s convenient having pumps in town for those who forgot to fuel up in the city.

Annette aka the Tough Cookie and Marsha aka the Floozy are women you don’t want to mess with. Neither holds back what they say. Plus they are a source of info and amusement for Isabel. Often, she and her mother, Maria, her partner in crime, will visit. Typically, Marsha works the counter. Annette, who runs a junkyard and garage, will stop by. As natives, they have a handle on who lives here and what they do. Isabel will ask if either of them has info about somebody they want to meet and get some gas. Besides, you never know who you might find there. Sometimes that can be an unpleasant encounter as Isabel and her mother experience in Following the Lead.

But here’s another scene from Following the Lead. Isabel is looking for info about man who is a person interest in her missing person’s case.

Next we go to the Pit Stop, which isn’t that far from Baxter’s, not because I need gas although I will get some anyway but to quiz Marsha aka the Floozie. Marsha and her cousin Annette took over the place earlier this year, but being co-owner and the person most frequently behind the counter, she might know something about Robert Todd. It’s likely he even gasses up there since the Pit Stop has the only pumps in this part of the hilltowns. Otherwise you have to pray you make it to a station near the closest city or plan way ahead before you go home. 

Marsha is on the phone behind the counter, but she says, “I’ll catch you later,” to whoever is on the line and hangs up. She comes around to give my mother a hug, which surprises both of us since Marsha isn’t the hugging kind and you know how my mother feels about it, and a slap to my arm, which is the Floozy’s usual form of endearment to me.

“You two look like you’re up to somethin’. Am I right?”

“Besides getting some gas, we could use a little info for my new case.”

Now recovered from her hug, my mother says, “You were so helpful Marsha in the last one. Isabel is trying to track down a person of interest we believe lives around here.”

Person of interest? Both Marsha and I smile at my mother using that phrase. I believe Marsha enjoys our visits although I make sure to spend some money. After all, she’s manning or make that womaning a store in the middle of nowhere. I am very aware a customer could show up any time to buy gas, beer, or cigarettes, or all three, which will require her attention, so I plan to get right to it.

“Do you know a man named Tim Todd?” That draws a blank expression. “No? How about Robert Todd?”

I pull out that photo again. Marsha’s lips scrunch up a smile as she nods.

“Yeah, I know the guy. Comes in for gas. Smokes, but only that American Spirit brand. The beer we carry ain’t good enough. He laughed at that California wine we carry. I like to call him Bobby just to tick him off.” She uses the tip of a finger to push up the end of her nose, a sign my own kids used to brand someone a snob. “And why in the hell are you interested in him?”

Yes, why indeed.

LINK: Following the Lead is ready for pre-order. Do it today and the Kindle version will magically pop into your device Nov. 3. You can find it on Amazon with my other books: https://www.amazon.com/Joan-Livingston/e/B01E1HKIDG

Thank you if you do.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: I have fallen in love with hydrangeas. I have planted four in my yard. And everywhere I go I see bushes.

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