Following the Lead, Isabel Long Series

Following the Lead: How It Begins

This novel was an easy one to get started. Afterall, Following the Lead, No. 6 in my Isabel Long Mystery Series that has a Nov. 3 release, starts minutes after No. 5, Working the Beat. I am not going be a spoilsport and reveal how that one ends. But I will say Isabel and her mother, Maria aka her “Watson” are on their way back home with an envelope filled with papers in the back seat.

I will give you more about that in a bit, but I wanted to talk about beginning a novel or at least, how it works for me. Without sounding like a total nut, they just come to me when I sit down at my desk. Later, while I may change a word here and there, I’ve kept each one.

My aim is to catch up readers (without giving away stuff to those who haven’t read the previous book/books) and get them into the action of the next one. I know what I like to read and hope to provide that experience to readers of this series.

In Chasing the Case, the first, Isabel is in her back yard digging a grave for a beloved pet cat while it is snowing. As she puts that shovel into the ground, she reflects on the past year, which I use to let readers know where she’s at. Isabel’s a recent widow. She lost her job running a newspaper and her 92-year-old mother has come to live with her. But as importantly, we learn that she wants to investigate on her own a 28-year-old mystery in her small town — and her first big story as a rookie reporter. 

(By the way, this book got rejected by a publisher because I was told that I broke a cardinal rule that you don’t kill off pets in books. I wrote back that writers are supposed to break rules.)

In the second, Redneck’s Revenge, Isabel meets Lin Pierce, who will be her boss of sorts. Isabel found out she just can’t investigate crimes on her own. Right away, she takes on her first legitimate case: Annette Waters, a junkyard owner, hires her to investigate the death of her father who supposedly was too drunk to get out of his shack of a home when it caught fire.

In Checking the Traps, the third, Isabel is tending bar at the Rooster with one arm after she was hurt when her car was run off the road in the previous case. Lots of questions from the customers, and then she gets a call from Gary Beaumont, a suspect in her last case who wants to hire her. 

In Killing the Story, the fourth, Isabel attends a funeral for the town’s police chief, but the next day she’s at a pig roast at the Pit Stop convenience store when she is approached by the editor/co-owner of a small town newspaper. He believes the death of his mother, who had the position before him, wasn’t accidental. Of course, with her background, it was an easy sell for Isabel.

In Working the Beat, the fifth, Isabel is losing badly at poker with Jack, the owner of the Rooster, during a dead night at the bar. Everybody is at the Titus Country Fair. The next day she’s there with her mother when she is approached by an old woman, whose beloved grandson was found dead after the demolition derby four years ago.

So what about the sixth, Following the Lead? Here is the very beginning.

Lin Pierce said not to open the envelope he gave me until I get home, but since when do I listen to what my old bosses tell me? I bet he said it only as a test, a tease, or knowing Lin, a joke. The manila envelope’s contents have been on my mind since he handed it to me in his office and said, “It’s your next case.” And there it sits on the back seat of my car, bugging the heck out of me to stop and rip it open. Thanks a lot, Lin.

“Do you think it’s another unsolved murder?” my mother asks after she gives the fat envelope another glance.

My mother and I are on our way home after I stopped to see Lin at his office. I shipped her to my brother’s home when things got a little bit scary with the last case, but now she’s back, and it appears ready for the next one.

“No clue,” I answer.

Ha, my mother, who you may know as my partner in crime, that is solving them, is as nosy as I am. When I was a kid, she kept a close eye and ear on the neighborhood where I grew up in the eastern part of this state. In those days, the town would broadcast the location of a fire by a series of loud horns, and my mother would look them up in a booklet she kept on a table beside her comfy chair. She would announce the street and number where the fire was happening, although one summer when the call was for a business several streets away from our home, we walked there in the middle of the night to watch. The only difference between my mother and me, regarding nosiness, is that I turned it into a profession, journalism. As a reporter, then editor, being nosy is a job requirement. Now I use that trait as a private investigator solving cold cases in the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts where we live. So far, I’ve solved five, and now it appears I will be moving onto number six sooner than I expected.

“You looked really excited when you left Lin’s office,” my mother says.

“Uh-huh. Lin wouldn’t give me a case that isn’t worth pursuing. He knows better than that.”

Ma checks over her shoulder again.

“I guess we’ll find out soon enough.”

Hmm, not soon enough in my mind.

My mother and I have been talking about what could be inside that envelope ever since we left Lin’s empty office in Jefferson. He’s officially out of the private investigation business now that he’s sold it to Bob Montgomery, the retired state cop who’s still interested in solving crimes. Once a cop, always a cop although as a private investigator, he can’t arrest people or shoot them. Lin, who I would rightly describe as a bit of a fuddy-duddy, isn’t what comes to mind when I think of a P.I., certainly not the ones I’ve seen in movies and TV shows or read about in novels. He didn’t solve crimes but took insurance cases, usually on behalf of the company trying to disprove one. It wasn’t until I came on board earlier this year that he ventured into crime. Actually, I did the criminal part. I earned a buck a day and he got a cut of what I made from my client, including the case where I was paid free mechanical service for my vehicles for life. Lin does, too. That was the deal I made with Annette Waters aka the Tough Cookie when I investigated her father’s death in case number two.

From now on, I will get two bucks a day from Bob Montgomery. His stipulation for buying the business was that I come with it. No, I’m not an indentured servant, but Bob likes the zip I added to Lin’s business. Certainly, my solving those mysteries gave Lin’s business some badly needed publicity after my cases were written up in the local newspapers and even covered by a couple of TV stations. As for me, Bob’s offer is likely the best and only one I could get to continue what I love doing. I didn’t bother applying to other private investigation firms since I need an arrangement that doesn’t take me away from my mother, who is ninety-three. Besides, I want to investigate cases that interest me and I sure as heck don’t want to work full time because I plan to keep my part-time gig tending bar at the Rooster on Friday nights.

I tip my head toward the back seat.

“He said it was an old case. Maybe it was before he started doing business with those insurance companies.”

“Could be something personal, Isabel.” 

“Now that would be interesting.”

HOW TO GET FOLLOWING THE LEAD: The official release is Nov. 3 for Kindle on Amazon, but pre-ordering — and thank you if you have done that — is appreciated. Pre-order now and the book will magically appear in your device on that day. I will be frank that selling books that one writes is a numbers game and pre-orders help with rankings. The price is $3.99. (If you have Kindle Unlimited, I will get paid for pages read.) Now about paperbacks … there will be a bit of a wait, per my publisher’s policy, but I will let you know when that happens. Here’s the link:

Here is the one for all of the Isabel Long Mystery Series:

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: A great sky from our front porch.


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.”


Here is the link to Working the Beat:


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







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

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.


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:

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 Thank you if you do.