Isabel Long Mystery Series

Meet My Next Victim

My mysteries always have a victim. And it’s Isabel Long’s mission to find out what really happened to that person.

Isabel, a longtime journalist turned P.I., focuses on solving cold cases in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. In the first, Chasing the Case, a woman had disappeared 28 years earlier. In the second, Redneck’s Revenge,  Chet Waters, a junkyard owner, supposedly died in a fire because he IG Working the Beat copywas too drunk to get out.  In Checking the Traps, the victim is a highway worker by day and a poet by night who supposedly jumped from a bridge known for suicides. And in Killing the Story, it’s the editor and co-owner of a small town newspaper who got offed walking home one winter night.

Well, now I am onto no. 5 Working the Beat, which has a Jan. 27 release. Who is the victim this time? Lucas Page, a young man, who supposedly — there’s that word again — fell into a ravine while everybody was watching a demolition derby at a local country fair. His grandmother, Shirley Dawes doesn’t believe it was an accident but no one was convinced until Isabel Long agreed to take on the case.

Shirley took in Lucas was he was just a toddler and his drug-addicted, homeless mother — Shirley’s daughter — wisely gave him up. For Shirley, it was an opportunity to make amends. Her late husband was a no-good abuser, and unfortunately she couldn’t protect her daughter and son.

Here I will let Shirley tell you about him in this scene. By coincidence Isabel and her mother are at the Titus County Fair when she approaches them. This is an excerpt from Working the Beat.

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.”

HOW TO GET YOURS

Here is the link to Working the Beat: mybook.to/workingthebeat

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE

That’s the snow-covered Deerfield River flowing under the Bridge of Flowers in my village of Shelburne Falls after a recent storm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Isabel Long Mystery Series

Writing About Small Town Life

One of the themes in my Isabel Long Mystery Series is small town life. I’m talking about really small towns, around a thousand people or fewer, in rural Western Massachusetts. I got to know this part of the U.S. intimately as a reporter for a local daily newspaper and, of course, from living there.

And though the books in my series are fiction, I draw from those experiences to create what I feel are accurate portrayals of how people interact there, including in Working the Beat, number 5, which launches Jan. 27.

First a brief synopsis of Working the Beat: Isabel Long finds her next case at a country fair when she is approached by a woman whose grandson’s body was found there four years ago. Shirley Dawes took in Lucas Page after his mother abandoned him, doing her best after failing to protect her own children from her late husband, a no-good abuser. The official ruling is that he slipped and fell in a ravine behind the demolition derby. On the case, Isabel finds evidence, a bag of jewelry to be specific, that Lucas might have a connection to a string of break-ins in the hilltowns — yet another unsolved mystery. Was Lucas part of the ring of thieves? Or was he trying to do the right thing and died as a result of it?

So small town life isn’t like what you see in postcards, and that’s what makes it an interesting setting for my series.

For the most part, people, at least in New England, are nosy as all heck. We can’t help it. We know who drives what vehicle, who’s getting divorced or hooking up, and what trouble our neighbors are getting themselves into. Actually, Isabel counts on that kind of behavior because these nosy folks offer her clues, especially the Old Farts, a group of gossipy men who hold court in the back room of the local general store.

These towns don’t have a lot of commerce, not even a downtown. They are lucky if they have a general store, even luckier if it has gas pumps. Maybe there’s a bar or a restaurant, a church, typically Protestant, and a school, if the town has enough kids. Worthington, where I lived for 25 years in Massachusetts, used to have one stoplight, but the state removed it last year.

Politics is personal in a small town. How can it not be when you pretty know everyone who lives around you?

Then, there’s the potential conflict between natives and newcomers. These towns have their share of families that have been there for generations, like Isabel’s significant other, Jack, who owns the Rooster Bar and Grille where she works Friday nights, and are pretty proud of it even if they don’t have a lot of money. Then there are those, who move there from the big city. Some, like Isabel, embrace the town for what it is and then there are those whose idea of country living conflicts with what is real.

Isabel Long lives in the town of Conwell. The neighboring towns are: Penfield, Titus, Caulfield, Dillard, Jefferson, Mercy, and a new one with number five, Rossville. Don’t bother looking for them on a map, however. They’re all in my head.

Here’s the link to Working the Beatmybook.to/workingthebeat

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: I will be doing a reading Jan. 19 along with other authors from Straw Dog Writers, a group in Western Mass. via Zoom. I get five minutes to read from Working the Beat. I am pleased to have this opportunity. Yup, I’ve been practicing. And you are free to join us.

 

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Darkstroke Books, Isabel Long Mystery Series, Readers

Out of Nowhere

One never knows who will want to read your books. Lately, I had two experiences that brought this home.

First, I should say I don’t write books to sell books. Of course, I want to make money from my hard work. It would be great if it were a great deal of money. But I write because I love to write and I hope people will have the same experience reading the words I put together on paper or screen. I want them to forget they are reading but feel they are inside the story I created.

I certainly appreciate the support I receive from fellow authors, especially those I have met through my publisher darkstroke books. You know who you are. I smile at the reviews and ratings that perfect strangers leave on Amazon and their comments via social media. Then there are those who come to in-person readings or I meet randomly, say at my son’s brewery. Of course, I have the backing of my family and longtime friends.

But let me tell you about those two experiences I mentioned above.

The first was aided by Fred, a writer who I met in college and continues to be a close friend. He was in communication with a friend who is incarcerated in a prison. I won’t go into the reasons why, but he does share with Fred an interest in books. Fred recommended my Isabel Long Mystery Series. It turns out Fred’s friend belongs to a reading group in prison, and upon his request, the members took up my first book, “Chasing the Case.” Last I heard, they enjoyed it enough to move onto the second, “Redneck’s Revenge.”

The second is an encounter I had with the person at one of the newsrooms where I work. She handles many responsibilities for the ad department. I happened to be near her desk when she showed the paperback copies of the first four books in my series. Would I be willing to sign them? And as I did, she told me she asked for them as a Christmas present and was so happy when she found them under the tree. She had heard I write mysteries, her favorite genre. I was touched and promised her a gift of the fifth that will be out later this month.

Both experiences made me smile and glad that I write books people wanted to read.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: That’s the full cover of Working the Beat, no. 5 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series, set for a Jan. 27 release. Here’s the link: mybook.to/workingthebeat

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New Year

Good Intentions for the New Year

Yup, I’m one of those people. The new year comes and it’s my chance to start over, at least for that part of my life that needs a bit of revving.

To backtrack a bit, I can say my New Year’s Eve celebrations have run the gamut from quiet to raucous. Quiet means the two of us staying at home, perhaps not even being awake for when the clock strikes midnight. Then there have been parties with the usual amount of misbehaving or awkwardness. Sometimes we attended a festive series of concerts for First Night, which seems to be a bit of a misnomer, although events like that are on hold this year.

I recall the first one Hank and I spent together. We were on a train from Boston to Philly, where I was going to meet his parents. The train was rocking with those who were already imbibing and on their way to Times Square in NYC for that famous ball to drop. Too bad the train broke down somewhere in Connecticut and the cops had to come aboard to quell the drunks.

Last night we were at our son’s, Floodwater Brewing, which is a short walk from our home in the Shelburne Falls village. Good music and company. Great beer. I had the Young Hankenstein. Cyborg Joan wasn’t on the menu. Yes, Zack named two beers after his parents.

But my attention each year is on the first day of the new year and what I can change about myself.

I’d say it typically comes down to habits. There are, of course, the one about making healthy choices. Just a few adjustments needed there, I believe.

But a huge change ahead — leaving journalism for good — should bring interesting opportunities. I officially end my job as the editor-in-chief overseeing three daily newspapers on Jan. 7 and will stay on three to four weeks to help with the transition.

After that my time is mine.

Last year, I was able to complete Working the Beat, Book No. 5 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series. (The proof arrived yesterday, thanks to the considerate postal deliverer who left it on our porch out of the rain. There it is above.) Considering the hours I put in as editor-in-chief, it was a bit of a miracle, getting up at 5 a.m., to complete this novel.

My goal for 2022 is to complete two. I’ve already started No. 6.

I also have three adult novels that unfortunately don’t fit my publisher’s genres. I will try to find a home for those.

I will do better at self-promotion, figuring out what works and what is a complete waste of time or money.

Yes, we will go on a road trip, hopefully fitting in Taos, NM, where we lived for 11 years.

I will get to spend more time with our family, including my mother.

And I look forward to reading something other than news and feature stories that a reporter wrote for a newspaper … like the books sitting in my Kindle and on my shelves.

Last year on my commute, I listened to language learning audio books: French, Spanish and Portuguese. I will continue working my way through Portuguese, which was the language of my grandparents. Japanese is next.

Jan. 1 is a great time to reflect. I say bring on 2022.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Yes, that’s the proof to Working the Beat. You can pre-order yours on Amazon at mybook.to/workingthebeat Thank you if you do.

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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: mybook.to/workingthebeat

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

 

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