author, New release

Val Penny’s Latest: Hunter’s Force

Val Penny and I haven’t met in real life, but I feel I know her well from her crime novels, plus our exchanges on social media and Zoom. My hope is to some day meet with her in person in Scotland where she lives. We’d have a wonderful time talking about writing. In the meantime, I have her DI Hunter Wilson Thrillers that are set in Edinburgh — including no. 3 Hunter’s Force, which was released Jan. 25 by Spellbound Books. I am quite fond of the characters she has created, especially DI Hunter Wilson.

​First a little more about Val: She is an American author living in Scotland with her husband and their cat. She has two adult daughters.

Val has an Llb degree from the University of Edinburgh and her MSc from Napier University. She has had many jobs including hairdresser, waitress, banker, azalea farmer, and lecturer. She writes poetry, short stories, nonfiction, and of course, novels. Read more about Hunter’s Force below.


Hunter by name – Hunter by nature. Can DI Hunter Wilson keep Edinburgh safe when he is the hunted?

Detective Inspector Hunter Wilson is woken in the early hours of the morning by a call from his son. Cameron’s flatmate was murdered. Why would anybody want to kill a young woman recently arrived in the city?

Hunter must call in the new Major Incident Team (MIT) to lead the investigation due to the reorganisation of police services. Hunter’s ability to be involved, however, is put in severe doubt when someone from his past decides to take revenge on him. He goes missing, and his team have no idea where to look for him. Who would want to stop Hunter in his tracks?

Meanwhile, Hunter’s team must work closely with the MIT and with or without him, solve the murder in this taut crime thriller.

Edinburgh, Scotland


DI Hunter Wilson looked at the time on his phone before he answered the call. 4.03am. If this was some comedian from the sub-continent calling to tell him about putting in a claim for the accident he hadn’t had… Then he noticed it was Cameron calling him.

“What’s the matter, son? This is a hell of a time to phone.” Hunter whispered.

“I didn’t know who else to call.”

“What’s the matter? And it had better be good.”

“It’s far from good.” Cameron told his father of the scene that had met him and his new friends when they got back to his flat.

“She’s had what cut off? Bloody hell!”

“I know, Dad, I know. And her head has been bashed in too. What do I do?”

“Well, now we have Police Scotland in place there is a Major Incidents Team, imaginatively know as MIT, that deals with cases like this.”

“Oh, Dad no! The other girls’ll go mental. You come. Please? At least at first. I need your help.”

Hunter thought back to the days when Cameron used to ask for his help regularly: tying his shoelaces, drying him after swimming, learning to ride a bike. Those had been the golden years. It had been a long, long time since his son had sounded so desperate and pleaded for his help. It made Hunter feel good. He could help Cameron again. Brilliant! 

“You’re not back on the cocaine are you, Cameron? You’re not hallucinating?” Hunter said suddenly.

“No, I’m bloody not! But thanks for the vote of confidence. Believe me, I will be if you don’t get your arse over here pronto!”

“And that’s how you ask for help from your dad? A favour? Stuff you!” Hunter shouted back.

“What is it?” a bleary voice beside Hunter said.

“Please, Dad. Just come. I need you.” Cameron sounded like a little boy about to burst into tears. “Another person’s in my flat too. I’ve never seen her before. Just come, quickly, please Dad! I can’t tell you how awful it all is here.”

Hunter got out of bed and patted Meera’ s arm. “Go back to sleep, pet. I’ve got to go and see Cameron. It’s an emergency.”

“At four o’clock in the morning? What’s wrong? Is he using again?”

“No. But he was out for the evening and got back to his home to find his flat mate dead on the floor”

“Why does he need you? Shouldn’t he call an ambulance?” Meera asked.

“It’s a bit late for that. She’s been mutilated; her head has been bashed in and the tops of her fingers cut off.”

“I’d guess she’s probably dead, right enough. But doesn’t Cameron need me more than he needs you? I’m coming with you,” Meera said in a determined voice that brooked no contradiction.

LINK: Kindle readers, here’s the link to buy Val Penny’s Hunter’s Force : DI Hunter Wilson Series: Book 3 : 

Secret Passageway

What’s Behind the Door

Who wouldn’t want to live in house with a secret passageway? I did, sort of, when I was a growing up. 

When my industrious parents constructed their Cape-style home, they held off having bedrooms in the attic for years. The door they had built blocking the upstairs wasn’t ordinary, however. It was also a bookcase with paneling at the bottom, and if someone didn’t notice the hinges, they wouldn’t think it was a doorway.

It was our secret passageway. And I always felt it was one of the best features of our house — along with our player piano in the cellar, my father’s gardens, and a huge genie my mother painted on the wall beside it. 

Eventually, the upstairs bedrooms were finished when our family expanded to four children. We three girls slept upstairs. The bookcase door was then moved upstairs to seal off a storage area. Now that no one sleeps there except for visiting family, the door is back where it was originally installed on the first floor. Old books fill its shelves. You can see it in the photo above.

My fascination for secret passageways was intensified as a kid when I read Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. This book wasn’t fiction, but a moving account of how her family and others attempted to survive the Nazi regime in Amsterdam by hiding in the Secret Annex. That doorway also was disguised as a bookcase. Unfortunately it was not enough to keep Anne and the others safe. Our experiences couldn’t have been more different. 

During my childhood, I read Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden and Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, and the entire Wizard of Oz series by L. Frank Baum. There were other books and movies in which people could escape to some place secret and didn’t know what they would find there. 

The bookcase door in my parents’ home, alas, didn’t bring me to a magical place. But it certainly kindled my imagination, and I thank them for that.

NEW BOOK: I credit the imagination I had as a child and the determination I have as an adult for creating yet another book: The Sacred Dog. This thriller set in rural New England launched Dec. 27. Kindle readers can find it here: The paperback version will follow soon.

Following the Lead, Isabel Long Mystery Series

Killing off a Character

This is a true story although I can’t divulge names because that would give away too much of the plot for Following the Lead, no. 6 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. But even so, it’s one worth telling.

I’ve mentioned in previous posts that our son, Zack owns Floodwater Brewing in our village of Shelburne Falls. And this where I met, oh, let’s call him Mr. X, one of the regulars.

Mr. X, who lives within walking distance of the brewery, loves to play cribbage. So does Hank. And they will often coax one or two people to join them playing a game I don’t understand that involves moving pegs around a board depending on what cards you and the others are holding. Floodwater has a cribbage board that resembles a small table so the players gather around on chairs.

Originally from Canada, Mr. X has lived in Western Massachusetts for many years. He’s got a great sense of humor that sometimes borders on him being a wise guy. He also reads all of my books, including the Isabel Long Mystery Series

Mr. X likes to dish out the wisecracks, especially when I was the editor-in-chief of the local daily newspaper. One day, I decided to dish it back. I told him, “I’m gonna put you in one of my books and kill you off,” or something close to that. He laughed.

Then, I forgot I said it.

But I guess others didn’t. I was reminded one day by Mr. X’s pal and fellow cribbage player that I threatened to bump him off in one of my books and how much he loved that idea. That was when I was about a third of the way through Following the Lead. I checked in with Mr. X, who said he would be delighted if that happened.

Oh, dear, how was I going to pull that off?

In the past, I have used the names of real people in my books as a prize for a virtual launch party on Facebook. But I specifically created characters I thought they would like. One was a ranger, another a mail deliver. I even used the names of people’s pets.

Yes, I use Mr. X’s real name in Following the Lead. Let’s say he is what I would call a person of interest in a case involving a baby’s abduction from her front yard 49 years earlier. Isabel feels he may have useful information, but she is having the darndest time trying to meet him in person. So for a good part of the book all she knows about this person of interest comes from other people. 

While writing the book, I would tease Mr. X about his character but reveal nothing when I would see him at the brewery. I didn’t even let him see a draft. But I know he’s looking forward to reading it when the Kindle version comes out Nov. 3 since he’s told me so.

And, that’s all I’m going to say right now abut Mr. X and his doppelganger.

BOOK LINK: Following the Lead will have a Nov. 3 release for Kindle and soon after for paperback. It is now in pre-order mode and I am grateful to those who do that. It helps with ratings. Thank you. Here is the link:

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s the wooden sign above Floodwater our son, Zack hand-carved and painted. There’s one more piece to go. Here’s the link to the website:

characters, Isabel Long Mystery Series

Meet a New Character in Working the Beat

A new mystery for Isabel Long often means meeting a person who wants her to solve one. And for me, that means creating a new character. That happened in the second and fourth books, and now on Working the Beat, no. 5 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series.

(In the first book, Chasing the Case, Isabel decided to pursue a cold case that was her first big story TDKV4932as a rookie reporter 28 years earlier. In the third, Checking the Traps, she gets to know one character from the second better.)

Let me tell you about Shirley Dawson, who hires Isabel for her for her fifth case. As I’ve explained before, writing for me is telepathic. Yes, that sounds nuts. But I sit at my laptop and the story just comes as I type. That includes my characters, such as Shirley, who just pop inside of my brain and became very real for me, and I hope for my readers.

Before I proceed with this topic, I will say Shirley is not based on anybody. Sometimes people who know me like to guess who a character really is. Nice try, but none of what I write is true.

The first thing is to show my readers what Shirley looks like. I do that right off the bat when she approaches Isabel and her mother, Maria, who are taking in the local action at the Titus Country Fair. Shirley taps Isabel on the shoulder. 

I turn around to face a woman, actually I’m looking down because she only comes up to my shoulders. I don’t believe she’s as old as my mother, but she’s up there, with white hair cut short and lines on her tanned skin that make me believe she works outside a lot and is a heavy smoker, which I verify when I get closer. Her clothes are a standard-issue baggy flannel shirt hanging over jeans that are faded at the knees from work.

What else can I tell you about Shirley? She hasn’t had an easy life. She had a no-good husband who beat her and their two kids. He died thankfully but not before making their lives miserable. One kid took off and the other sought a better life. So raising Lucas, who was abandoned by his drug-addicted mother, brought joy in her life.

I wanted to create a character who’s a bit on the scratchy side. She drives school bus. Inherited a lot of land. She’s hard of hearing likely from getting knocked around, which Isabel figures out right away. She’s also a hoarder which Isabel and her mother learn when they visit her.

Shirley says she’s heard how Isabel helped other people. Now she wants her to do the same.

And Isabel finds out later that she met Shirley at her former newspaper office when she came seeking answers about her grandson’s death. Isabel couldn’t help her as a journalist but maybe she can as a private investigator.

Once again, Isabel — and I — are suckers for a hard-luck story. Here, I will let Shirley tell you herself.

Shirley stays sitting when she sees us approach. I make our introductions, and then we take the seats opposite her at the picnic table. I make sure I’m in Shirley’s direct line of vision in case she reads lips.

“So, what did you want to talk about?” I ask.

Shirley works her mouth a bit.

“It’s about my grandson, Lucas. Lucas Page is his full name. He was killed here four years ago and whoever did it didn’t get caught.” 

“Here in Titus?”

She gives her head a shake. 

“I mean here at the fair. It was after the demolition derby, the first one they had. They found Lucas’s body the next morning behind where everybody watches, in the woods up there. They said he must’ve been drunk and fell down in the rocks. His head was hit real bad I was told.”

“What was he doing on the hill afterward? Was he alone?” 

“That’s what I want you to find out.”

 This story’s coming back to me now. I was the editor of the Daily Star then. We reported on an unattended death at the fair in a story that made the front page, and then like Shirley said, it was ruled an accident because of a brain injury, although she protested that in a story we ran, too.

“Now, I remember you, Shirley. You came to see me in the newsroom. You said you were frustrated the police didn’t seem to be looking that hard into your grandson’s case and you wanted us to do that.”

I think back and hope I treated this woman nicely. 

“Yeah, I did. You said newspapers don’t do that kind of work.”

 “No, not the one I worked for.”

 “But I heard about what you’ve been doin’ now as a private investigator. Your last case was a doozy. Read about it in the paper.” She crooks a thumb toward Annette and her son, still talking with his admirers. “Course, there was Chet Waters. Maybe you can do what the cops couldn’t or wouldn’t do.”

 “You mean find out what happened that night with your grandson.”

 “Yeah. I heard you get paid for doin’ this. I wanna hear how much. I ain’t got a lot. But this is important to me. I loved my grandson. I’m the one who brought him up after his mother gave him to me. He was hangin’ around with a rough crowd in those days. Tryin’ to fit in. Here. Let me show you his picture.”

 Shirley reaches for the purse on the seat beside her. The purse is vintage style, off white with a smart clasp on the top, no zippers, something my mother would use. I am guessing Shirley holds onto things. She removes a photo from her wallet and hands it to me.

 “I took it at Christmas, the last one we had,” she says.

 Lucas Page’s face smiles at me. He’s young, blue-eyed, and with the kind of features that would label him a good-looking guy. His most distinctive is the red hair that’s short on the sides and long enough on the top so it has a bit of curl. But back to that smile. He was happy to pose for his grandmother.

 “He was a handsome young man,” I tell Shirley.

 She swipes away a tear.

 “Yeah, he was.”

 Want to read more? Working the Beat will officially be out Jan. 27, 2022. Kindle users can pre-order now and it will magically appear in your device on that day. Paperback readers, stay tuned.

Thanks for your support. Heres the link:

ABOUT  THE PHOTO ABOVE: Taken at the Cummington Fair, the inspiration for the fair in Working the Beat.


Isabel Long Mystery Series

Smashin’ and Crashin’ in Working the Beat

It was my friend, Victor who gave me the idea to have someone die at a demotion derby in one of my books. His suggestion was that a body would be found after the event ended and the crowd cleared. He mentioned this after I had actually attended a derby at a country fair a few years ago. Me a derby fan? Hardly. But I saw it as an opportunity, like I did as a reporter a long time ago, to soak in the local color.

The idea for a death at a derby stuck with me as I went onto writing other books in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. And when it was time to start no. 5 Working the Beat, I took another approach. Unless the person died quietly of a heart attack or a drug overdose, it was unlikely that nobody TDKV4932would have noticed in that crowd of people. It had to happen another way and be tied to some sort of crime. So, that’s what I developed. Lucas Page’s body was found the next day and allegedly nobody saw how it ended up in a ravine.

His death is why his grandmother approaches Isabel Long at the Titus Country Fair. And good timing because the fair’s demolition derby is being held that night. Isabel was already planning to go with Jack, the owner of the Rooster Bar where she works parttime and her love interest. He’s even closing his bar on a Saturday night because of it.

I had fun writing about a demolition derby in a chapter called “Smashin’ and Crashin’.” For that chapter, I used my experience being at one and a little online research — plenty of videos on YouTube I might add.

Plus I throw in the rivalry between two characters in the series: Annette Waters and Gary Beaumont. Annette aka the Tough Cookie is a mechanic who runs a garage and junkyard. She hired Isabel in Redneck’s Revenge to prove her father’s death wasn’t an accident, that he was too drunk to get out of his burning shack of a home. Gary, a bad boy drug dealer who was a suspect in the same book, hired her in the third, Checking the Traps. I love these characters too much to let them go, especially since there’s a history between the two.

The demolition derby in Working the Beat is an opportunity for an interesting showdown.

So I gave Annette’s car the name Wild Woman. Gary’s is Bad Ol’ Boys because initially his brother, Larry was going to drive.

In this clip, Isabel is sitting on a blanket on a hill with Jack’s buddies, many of them customers at the Rooster, and his cousin, Fred aka el Creepo. I let them explain to Isabel, who is not a local gal, how it works like why the cars drive backwards — so their radiators don’t get hit. As it turns out, Gary wins the first heat, and Annette is in the third. Here goes:

In the third heat, I keep my eyes on Annette’s Crown Vic. Yes, Wild Woman is in action. I pick up the binoculars to check out the Tough Cookie’s face, what I can barely see beneath her helmet. She has a fierce grin as the rear of her car wallops the front end of any vehicle close by. Flags are going up on her victim’s cars. This woman wants to win, and I bet meeting Gary Beaumont in the finale must be an inspiration. Just a reminder that Gary is the father of Annette’s son, Abe, although he and most of the world don’t know that. Ma and I do. It was one of those brief high school hookups. “Could you imagine what that’d be like?” she once told me. “Having a father who’s a drug dealer? No thanks. He’s better off without him.” So, Annette in Tough Cookie fashion decided to bring him up alone.

“Damn, that woman sure can drive.” Jack gives me a squeeze. “Maybe Annette should give you some lessons, Isabel.”

“Very funny, Jack.”

But Jack is right about Annette’s driving skills, and she finishes off the last car left. Bam, its engine is still running, but that car is going nowhere. The crowd goes berserk. The True Blue Regulars are on their feet and hollering around me.

I nudge Fred, who just sits there.

“Hey, you used to be married to her. Why aren’t you cheering with the guys?”

He grins and nudges me back.

“You would say somethin’ like that, Isabel. Maybe cause I used to be married to her.”

The crowd’s noise has died down. People are up and stretching as the wrecks get towed from the field and the crew checks for broken parts on the ground. Jack’s left to use one of the porta-johns or maybe go in the woods if the line is too long. So, it’s just me and el Creepo. So far, I haven’t come up with a better nickname for Fred.

“Fred, can I ask you a question?”

“As long as it’s not about Annette.”

I shake my head.

“No, it’s about Lucas Page, the kid who died here after the demolition derby. You remember him?”

“How could I forget.” He points to a certain section of the woods behind us. “They found his body over there.”

“Did you know him?”

“Sometimes I’d see him on a job or around. Couldn’t miss him with that red hair of his. Why do you ask?”

“His grandmother wants me to look into his death.”

“Shirley? What the hell for?”

“She thinks it wasn’t an accident.”

“Tell me, Isabel. Do all your cases involve somebody’s death?”

“So far, yes. Why? You got a mystery I can solve that doesn’t?”


Jack is back just in time for the three remaining cars to enter the pit: Wild Woman, Bad Ol’ Boys, and Road Hog, the winner in the second heat. Each driver gets a cheer from the crowd, who I bet is anticipating a good showdown in the finale.

“Who are you rootin’ for, Isabel,” Jack says with a chuckle.

“Annette, definitely. You?”


And with a blast of that airhorn, the cars start moving. It’s clear Annette and Gary plan to take out Road Hog right away as they circle the car. They want to go head to head, or in this case, rear end to rear end of their vehicles. As I expected, Road Hog is a goner about ten minutes into the heat. Now, the driver is stuck in the middle of the pit, watching as Wild Woman and Bad Ol’ Boys circle him. His car is off limits now that he’s hoisted the surrender flag, but he has the best view of anyone about what’s happening down there. Round and round the two cars go. Both are driving backwards really fast, something I could never do, Jack reminds me. Annette tries to take out a rear tire on Gary’s vehicle, but he speeds away in time.

“That was a close one,” the announcer says. “Bad Ol’ Boys better watch out for Wild Woman it they know what’s good for ’em.”

Everyone around us is laughing like crazy fools.

It was a close call, and now the two of them play cat and mouse, nicking each other’s cars although not enough to do either of them in. But then, both cars spin around and speed toward each other. Many in the crowd rise to their feet as if that would get them closer to the action.

And, then, wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am, Wild Woman and Bad Ol’ Boys hit each other head on, and from the impact, it’s clear that’s the end of the road for both vehicles. The crowd goes nuts. I get to my feet and join them.

“What do you think?” I ask Jack.

“Not a bad way to finish,” he says. “I wonder if they planned it that way.”

“Don’t know, but I’m going to find out.”

“I bet you will, Isabel.”

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A scene from the demolition derby I attended at the Cummington Fair a few years back.

INFO ABOUT WORKING THE BEAT: My book, no. 5 in the Isabel Long Mystery Series, will be released on Jan. 27. Kindle readers can pre-order now. I will let you know when the paperback version will be released by my publisher darkstroke books.

Here is the link on Amazon:

And as a bonus see the video I created below.