Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Haunted New Orleans by Kate Kulig

My friend and mystery writer Kate Kulig is here to tell us about a place I've always wanted to go, New Orleans.

It's really hard to talk about Hallow'en in North America and not mention New Orleans. The Crescent City is full of haunted places and spooky things, and for some very good reasons. The nifty people at Paranormal Books talk about this at some length, but I want to share the top three:

1) Catastrophe--New Orleans has these in spades all through its history since its founding 1718. Not just hurricanes, but plagues like yellow fever, war, major fires. If someone dies in a tragic fashion in such a situation, it's easy to imagine work left undone, a common motive attributed to corporeally challenged.

2) Violence. Last I looked (and I look at this one often when researching the Bloody Murder mysteries), New Orleans had outpaced New York City for murders and they're even catching up to Detroit. Talk about vengeful spirit potential. Add in a few more ingredients and stir: Duels were a not uncommon way to solve problems in the 18th Century, which led to no small amount of dead bodies. The picturesque Jackson Square that we know of with its cultivated gated gardens surrounded by street performers, artists and fortune tellers used to be the site of many a public hanging.

3) Drama. Picture it: There's a horrible argument. The mistress dies tragically. With each retelling, she is younger, more beautiful, and wearing fewer clothes The death was accident? Or was it suicide? Either way, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.

As an aside, I find Scorned Woman to be the best hot sauce in the city.

There's also the fascinating, intriguing world of Santeria, which many people refer to as Vaudun or voodoo. Candles, spirits, animal (and maybe human?) sacrifices, remote but beautiful women--often black and with Caribbean Island accents. The famous Marie LaVeau fit this description almost to a T. Her parents were mulatto and she was a Free Woman of Color (Feliz is descended from a woman of similar background). Rumors of Marie LaVeau abound. The ones I like best have her running the best information network in the city. Not quite like Zo's Royal Street Irregulars. LaVeau, reportedly, held a lot of power in New Orleans due to some well-placed blackmail.

She was also Catholic, though practiced some form of voodoo as well. When plantation owners in Haiti forbade slaves to practice voodoo, many combined their traditional African worship with Catholicism. Some Catholic saints and some Voodoo spirits have common traits, and many slaves were outwardly Catholic while still practicing their own religion.

Marie Laveau is still revered to this day. I took a cemetery tour with a lovely woman from the Voodoo Musuem, and her tomb was covered with offerings like bunches of flowers, coins, toys, and jewelry. The priest who baptized her and performed her marriage, Pere Antoine, is sometimes seen at St. Louis Cathedral.

Hallowe'en in New Orleans is a fun time, a wild time, full of street parties, a huge parade that runs from Molly's at the Market through the French Quarter. Costumed party-goers roam the streets. You can stay in a haunted hotel, if you dare. drink at haunted bars (which sounds quite fun to me, I will try this on my next trip). Everywhere you go there's a story, and maybe, just maybe, you'll meet a ghost who wants to tell you their side of things.

Kate Kulig is the author of the Bloody Murder Mystery Series that takes place in New Orleans at the Bloody Murder Bookstore.  I really liked the first two books and upon receiving my advanced copy of the third I jumped right in.

Bloody Murder                           Post Parcel 

The 3rd book Snow Job is not out until November, but you can purchase it in advance so that you get your copy on release day!!!

Monday, 27 October 2014

Kenneth and the Devil by Penn Wallace

Penn Wallace joins the Halloweenish Mystery Thrill Ride with a haunting story.  If you know me and what I am afraid of then you will understand why this story frightens me.  Oh and my father's name is Kenneth (no relation)

Kenneth and the Devil
By Victoria Ayala Pantoja
As told to Penn Wallace

My uncle Kenneth died when I was nine years old. He was a paratrooper in World War II and Mama is convinced that his parachute jumps led to the failure of his kidneys.
            Mama told me the story of Kenneth and the Devil when I was little. I asked her to re-tell it to me for a book, so here is Mama speaking:

            When I was little we lived on Pamona Street in Costa Mesa on the hill that went down before it went up. In those days Costa Mesa was known as “Goat Hill” for all the goats the Mexican families raised. This was long before it became a bustling American community.
On the corner of Pamona and Seventeenth Street my father had a huge corn field that was over fifty acres. He grew “field corn,” the kind used for cattle feed. 
            In late summer the stalks grew high with lots of ears of corn and leaves. Soon the corn would
be harvested. It was dark and scary in the field, and we children made up stories of bad things that happened in there. Once the corn was grown, my mother warned us not to go in. This was during the Depression and sometimes hobos slept in the corn fields. If we went in there we might step in the poo-poo they left as their calling cards.
            We walked by the corn and tomato fields every day. As we walked by the corn field we dared each other to go in. “The devil lives there,” I told my siblings and we’d run home as fast as we could.
             “If you call three times, ‘Devil, come and get me. Devil, come and get me. Devil, come and get me,’ he will come and take your soul to Hell,” my mother warned us. The priests and old ladies always threatened us with Hell to make us behave.
            My brother, Kenneth, four years younger than me, was “muy macho,” even at that age. He wasn’t afraid of anything. One day that summer, as we passed the corn field he bragged about how brave he was. “I’m not afraid of anything,” he said and pounded his chest with his fists.
            “Oh, yeah,” I said. “I bet you’re afraid of the Devil.”
            “Are you kidding? I’d stomp him into the ground if I ever saw him.”
            We passed the field where the tallest corn grew. It was dark as night among the corn stalks. There were black birds, the Devil’s messengers, flying over, eating the corn tassels and making squawking noises. We knew that witches lived in there too, my mother told us so. She taught us to cross ourselves as we went by.
            “If you’re so brave," I told Kenneth, "I dare you to go in there, to the middle of the field and call the devil three times.” I knew that even Kenneth wouldn’t take that dare.
            Kenneth stood up tall, threw his chest out, pounded it with clenched fists and said “I’ll go.”
            He straightened up as tall as he could and marched into the corn field. The rest of us dropped to our knees and started praying. The Padre Nuestros and Ave Marias intermingled with the rush of corn stalks and the blackbirds’ calls.
            Kenneth stomped off into the field. At first he marched with purpose, but as he got further and further into the corn, his steps became more tentative. He stopped to listen to the sounds, the cawing of the birds, the movement of the wind through the corn. What was that? Did he hear someone moving through the corn towards him?
            But he was brave. True to his word, he crept silently towards the middle of the field. Finally, he’d gone far enough. The day turned to night inside the field. It became very still. The birds fell silent and the wind stopped its endless rustling. Kenneth’s heart stopped. Sweat broke out on his brow.
            “Devil,” he whispered, “come and get me. . .” Nothing happened. Heartened, he cried a little louder. “Devil, come and get me.” Still nothing. No Devil, no black birds, no sound in the world. “Devil,” he shouted at the top of his lungs, “come and get me.”
            Behind him he heard a stirring. He whirled and there he was. The Devil. His eyes like glowing coals; fire and smoke flared from his nostrils. Red, brown and white feathers covered his body. He had a fiery red cockscomb and a huge, round body. His beak opened and closed and his head bobbed up and down. The Devil looked like a giant chicken.
            “Bawaaak!” the Devil shouted at Kenneth.
            “Aiyeeee!” Kenneth yelled and stared running.

It seemed like he had been in the corn a long time, but probably was only there a few minutes. We heard a rush of leaves, Kenneth’s desperate cries. We stood as the sounds came closer and closer. Kenneth, white as a sheet, his hair standing up, running for his life, flew past us with the Devil chasing him. As he passed us, we saw his beautiful green eyes, big as cow’s eyes. We yelled at him to make the cross and pray but he just kept running, the devil still behind him. When we saw the devil emerge from the corn field, wings spread, fire blasting from its nostrils, we took off after Kenneth.  At home, my mother immediately started praying those special prayers she knew. She sent someone to get Doña Louisa, the curandera.
They put Kenneth to bed, where he lay babbling and shivering.
“He has susto,” Doña Louisa said. Susto means that you have had a fright. “Go gather some eucalyptus leaves.”
Doña Louisa and my mother worked together for days, saying prayers, performing ancient rituals, to rid Kenneth of the susto. They stripped him naked and rubbed his body with oils. They made the sign of the cross under his bed and on his blankets to protect him from evil spirits. Finally, after several days, Kenneth began to speak again. He began to eat and he got out of bed.

It took weeks before he started playing with the other boys again. We all gave him a lot of room, because we knew that he had seen the Devil. He was never the same. He was no longer the brash braggart that wasn’t afraid of anything. But he had met the Devil and lived to talk of it.

Penn Wallace is the author of several books.  His latest are 2 mystery series.
The Ted Higuera Series

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Horror That Really Sticks To Your Bones by Garrard hayes

As Halloween approaches I can’t help but reminisce about the creepiest books I’ve read over the last ten years. These books left me in such a horrified state, that until this day, I still remember the effect they had on me. Don’t get me wrong, but some people think scary is slashers and serial killers. The thing that really leaves me sleepless is not from this world. These novels are so soul chilling, they still creeps me out. Don’t believe me? Give them a try. You’ll think twice about walking into a dark room at night. Happy Halloween and Cheers, Garrard Hayes

The Throne of Bones by Brian McNaughton

I’ve never read anything like it before or since. A dark fantasy world where nothing is as it seems. An old town with a large cemetery that is unable to contain the evil that lives within its walls. Enough ghouls, monsters and zealots to satisfy the most callused Horror fan.

The Elementals by Michael McDowel

A southern family goes to the Alabama Gulf shore to spend a relaxing summer at a beautiful beachfront retreat. Something old and dark is living and it doesn’t want to leave.

Song of Kali by Dan Simmons

A reporter from America takes his family with him to India to investigate a dead poet that’s stared writing again.

Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

An aging rock star buys a dead man’s suit on Ebay.

Garrard Hayes is the author of best selling thriller Bourbon and Blood.

Garrard Hayes is a lifelong New York resident whose ancestors made their living on the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn. His love of action and crime fiction, together with a knack for good, gritty story telling, sparked him to write. He lives in New York with his wife, two children, and three dogs.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Short Story by Yvonne Yourkowski

Today I get a visit from Yvonne Yourkowski a Canadian mystery writer.  She graces us with a short Halloween story.

The street lights cast an eerie glow as Lacy’s heels echoed through the empty streets. She wrapped her arms around her thin frame, trying to control the shivers, as mist gently fell around her. It had been three years of hell working at the 50’s diner. Bikers and truckers were their main customers; and from Lacy’s experience, they were the dregs of society. She gently rubbed her bruised ass and grimaced.

A loud clatter in a nearby alley caused Lacy to jump and her heel slipped. Arms flailed as she fell toward the towering lamp post. As her arm and the post made contact she cursed, “I can’t wait till I have enough money for a car.” Lacy cradled her sore arm and quickly continued toward home.
A large park loomed ahead; and Lacy braced herself for the worst part of the journey. Orange and brown leaves lay scattered along the path and crunched as she entered. The abundance of branches kept the park dry. Skeleton arms reached down trying to scrape the back of her neck. Lacy swung her head back and forth, trying to walk calmly, dodging the lowest hanging branches. The town really needed to trim these, it was dangerous when someone was there after dark. The branches seemed to blend into the night until some unsuspecting victim wandered in at their own peril.

The noise reverberating around Lacy didn’t instill any courage in her already shivering body. It seemed like ages before Lacy stepped into the street and sighed in relief. Only a few more blocks and she would reach the safety of her house. Pumpkins and skeletons peered down at her from the houses and trees she ran by. Once in a while, a motion sensor activated and an ear-piercing scream scared the crap out of her. Halloween was the worst holiday, in Lacy’s opinion, and the sooner it was over the better.

Her earliest memories of Halloween were of Jack, her oldest brother, stealing her candy and trying to scare her. If she woke up with nightmares he just laughed and celebrated attaining his goal, tormenting his little sister. For most of her childhood, Lacy’s relationship with Jack was marred from those experiences. It was just lately that they had started to communicate and become family again.
Her roommates were the ones that loved to hand out candy to the excited children. Lacy had to admit some of the kids brought a smile, when she ventured into the living room to watch. Lacy felt her muscles start to loosen as a few other people wandered into her view. It was usually safer in numbers.
Lacy had made a deal with her roommates, decorations were ‘outside only’. She knew it was a ridiculous fear but nothing could stop it. The smothering feeling overcame her as she stepped through the hanging spider webs; Lacy was grateful the girls had shown some restraint. There were no
gruesome, or horrific, objects obstructing her path to the door. Their yard was pretty tame compared to some neighbours. The girls had been accumulating decorations over the couple of years they’ve lived here, and the neighbours were getting more outrageous as well.

Music could be heard through the door; and Lacy laughed when Ariel’s voice belted out the words.

“This is new.” Lacy said, bending down to pick up a striped box. She gave it a little shake hearing something hit the sides. There was no card indicating who sent it. Lacy balanced the box while trying to reach into her pocket for keys. She squeaked as the box tipped over and plummeted to the ground with a thump.

“Damn. Hopefully it wasn’t breakable. Hey Girls!” Lacy tried yelling over the music. Ariel and Samantha, Sam for short, were dancing and singing in the living room. All three girls had attended the same school and agreed living together after graduation was the best outcome of their friendship. Lacy couldn’t help laughing as she watched.

“Is anyone expecting a package?” she asked, holding up the box.

Ariel reached over and turned down the volume shaking her head. “Where was it?” she asked.

“On the porch.”

“Well open it!” Sam said excitedly.

“Are you sure?” Lacy said, eyeing the box suspiciously. “Who could this be from?”

The girls crowded around Lacy talking all at once.

“Fine, fine.” Lacy said pushing past them carrying the box into the kitchen and setting it on the counter. She reached into a drawer pulling out a pair of scissors and cut the tape. As Lacy carefully removed the lid, a smell wafted towards them.

“Oh gross, what is that?” Ariel demanded.

Lacy scrunched her nose, as the lid came free, and they all peered in. She screamed, and backed up, holding a hand over her heart. A dead mouse, it better be dead, stared out at them.

“Well look at that.” Sam said, with a giggle.

“It’s not funny!” Lacy screeched.

The girls tried to hold in their grins.

“One of the guys were probably just trying to scare us. Don’t let them know it worked.” Ariel said.

“That was really cruel…I’m going to my room.” Lacy stomped out of the kitchen. This was turning out to be just like her childhood, no wonder she hated Halloween.

Lacy tossed and turned as she tried sleeping. The image of a dead mouse would not leave her head. There were mice running across her vision every time her eyes closed. A scraping sound on the window made her jump out of bed. What the hell could that be? Lacy thought, as she slowly pulled the curtain back just enough to peek through. It was pitch black and the only thing she could see were shadows. A sharp finger shot out of the dark and Lacy squealed dropping the curtain. She looked back out and groaned in disgust, it was a tree branch. She would be calling tomorrow to get that trimmed.

Lacy climbed back into bed pulling her blanket up over her head. She really wished every little thing didn’t make her jump, but it seemed to be wired into her DNA.

Morning came too soon; and Lacy slammed her hand down on her alarm with a hiss. She was disoriented for a moment, why did she set her alarm? Lacy looked at the time, stumbled out of bed, and into the shower. She was having brunch with her mother. It wasn’t usually a burden to visit with her but after last night Lacy was a little sensitive; and it was a foregone conclusion Jack would be part of the discussion. “Why couldn’t they get along? It was ages ago?” They just didn’t have anything in common.

There was no sign of the box when Lacy walked into the empty kitchen. She chugged back a glass of orange juice before grabbing her purse and heading out. Lacy made it to the end of the sidewalk before letting out a gasp. Across the sidewalk lay a prone body, she used the toe of her shoe and poked it looking for movement. As Lacy looked closer, she saw that a dummy lay in front of her. She slowly walked around searching for clues as to who left it; there was no one else on the streets.
“For crying out loud, what is going on?” Lacy demanded, kicking the body and stomping back to the house. She slammed the door open and yelled, “Sam, Ariel are you awake!”

She waited a few minutes before there was rustling and groaning from above and two sleepy faces peered down at Lacy.

“What?” They asked.

“Come outside, we have another present.” Lacy turned around not waiting for a response.

The girls scrambled down the stairs, hurrying after Lacy, and skidded to a halt, almost running into the prone form.

“What the hell is that?” Ariel asked.

“I don’t know, and I’m getting worried about these creepy gifts. Help me drag this to the garbage.” Lacy leaned down grabbing one of the disjointed arms. The body flipped over and she grimaced as a blooded face looked up at her.

“Let’s put this in the yard, so they will see we’re not bothered by this.” Sam said.

“No way do I want this here.” Lacy disagreed, vehemently, shaking her head.

“I agree with Sam. Come on Lacy.”

Lacy gazed between the two before groaning, “Fine, but I don’t want anything to do with it. And not right by the sidewalk. I’m gone.” Lacy dropped the body and walked toward the bus stop. She fumed, all the way, about assholes and who the hell was doing this. Of course Lacy was late for the bus, because of the body, and she had to run after it. She collapsed in the only empty spot beside an elderly woman who looked and sounded like she was on her last leg. The moment the bus lurched forward the lady began to hack up a lung and then proceeded to try and shake Lacy’s hand.

“My name is Shauna, what is yours.” the woman said.

“I’m Lacy.” She was able to avoid the handshake and sighed in relief.

They discussed multiple topics until Lacy was able to escape to meet with another disaster waiting to happen.

“It’s great to see you!” Lacy’s mom grabbed her in a big hug as soon as she entered the café.

“You too, mom. How’s it going?” Lacy said, setting her purse on the floor and sitting down. She felt a jerk as someone passed behind her chair; looking around there were no empty chairs available and space was limited. Lacy quickly scanned her menu hoping to beat the rush.

“So how is everything going? I haven’t heard much from you lately?”

“I’ve been busy, mom. The diner has been nuts and I started the class at the college.”

“What are you taking?” her mom asked, leaning forward pushing the menu away.

“Just an English class, I haven’t decided what I want to do yet.”

“Well you just keep working at it. You’ll do great whatever you pick.” Her mom said encouragingly. They sat quietly, contemplating the menus, as servers ran back and forth. Her mom was the first to break the silence, “So have you talked with Frank lately?”

Lacy gave a huge sigh and stared at her mother. “Really mom. You know the answer to that.”

“I just wanted to hear your side of it.” She said defensively.

“Please let it be. We are working on it but things like this take time.”

“He’s your brother.”

“I know, that’s why I’m trying; otherwise, he would be out on his ass.”

“Watch your language.” She said frowning into her menu.

“Sorry. It’s frustrating having you ask every time I see you.”

“I love both of you so much. I want you to be happy. Let’s talk about something else O.K.”

Lacy left the café in a better mood than when she arrived. After the first initial conflict the rest of their visit had been pleasant. Her mother was busy with her church bee and volunteering, and her dad still loved tinkering in the garage. None of them ever knew what he was doing; the first sign of an invasion and he would holler to leave him alone. Of course, when he finally would come out he had made something outstanding with wood or metal. Lacy had quite a few things throughout her house from him that she was very proud of. Many of her friends complimented the intricacies and the hard work that was put into each piece. Lacy slowed down as she reached the house and hoped maybe the girls had decided to get rid of the body instead of torturing her. She was almost to the house when it came into view. Of course there it was, in plain view, disgusting and scary. The house was quiet so Lacy used the time to try and catch up on her reading; tonight they would be discussing their assignments and correcting them. Lacy enjoyed the class, she was able to use her intellect, not like at the diner. No one wanted to talk; it was stuffing their face, and harassing her, that they enjoyed the most. She was finishing cooking spaghetti when Sam and Ariel walked into the kitchen.

“Looks good Lacy. Don’t you have your class tonight?” Ariel asked as she grabbed the dishes out of the cupboard.

“Yeah, I have to leave in an hour. The buses suck at nighttime, it adds an extra half hour on my travel time.”

“You know you can borrow my car.” Sam said.

“I’m fine, I don’t want to take your ride. Eat up.”

Lacy felt her eyes close, and gave herself a shake, as the teacher droned on about adverbs and verbs. Her body was telling her the sleepless night was catching up with her. As soon as she got home it was bedtime, she thought. Lacy was able to stay awake for the rest of the class and even answered a few questions. She dreaded having to wait for the bus and then travel miles out of the way until it reached her stop.

“Wait up Lacy.” A girl called out.

“How’s it going?” Lacy asked.

“Pretty good. Do you want a ride tonight? I have to go through your area, I’m going to see my parents.”

“That would be great! I wasn’t looking forward to the ride tonight. Thanks.”

Lacy arrived home in record time, and she collapsed into bed with a grateful sigh. She had to work
tomorrow night so hopefully she would be able to sleep in or else it would be a long shift.
A loud knocking pulled Lacy from her pleasant dream, and she struggled to untangle herself from the blankets almost falling onto the floor in the process. She looked at the clock and saw it blinking 11:00. Who could that be? Lacy thought, quickly dragging some clothes on, as the guest kept up their insistent pounding. She peered through the peephole and saw a young, pimply faced boy, in a courier outfit, staring back at her.

“Yes?” Lacy asked.

“I have a package for Lacy.” He squeaked, holding out a small box.

Lacy almost denied her name, as she remembered the dead mouse, but instead she asked, “Who is it from?”

The boy squinted at his screen and then at the package, “It’s from a secret admirer. I need you to sign so I can get going.” He held out the computer and pen. Lacy slowly signed the screen and took the box closing the door. She walked into the kitchen and put the box on the table. Lacy sat staring at it trying to decide if she should open it. Only two more days until Halloween and then it would all be over, but until then Lacy would just have to suck it up. With shaking hands, Lacy undid the ribbon and opened the box. Inside lay what used to be a Barbie doll. It reminded her of the dolls from the first Toy Story and the cruel little boy. Should she call the police? Could they really do anything? A clock chimed 11:30 and Lacy put the package on the fridge and hurried to her room. She had to shower and get ready for work, she couldn’t be late. The last server that was late had been yelled at in front of the all the customers; Lacy didn’t need that right now.

After putting on her uniform, Lacy rummaged through the fridge looking for something appetizing. She pulled out some cheese and grabbed a couple slices of bread, a grilled cheese sounded like a good idea.

Lacy pulled her jacket closed as the wind whipped around her blowing the leaves up in front of her and landing in their yard. It should make Sam and Ariel happy; they would have more stuffing for their Halloween bags and characters. Lacy had to walk fast to make it in time; and she saw her boss in front of the clock as she stepped into the diner with five minutes to spare. For a Friday night there were quite a few customers throughout the room. If this was any indication, Lacy would be kept running her feet off.

Lacy groaned as she rubbed her sore feet. Everyone in the city must have come through this place tonight. She stared down at the plate of food in front of her and debated if she really wanted to eat it. Her stomach growled and Lacy smiled, her body had decided. She began shoveling the potatoes in, barely tasting the food, she wanted to get home. Last night had been a great start to catching up with her sleep but she still needed another good night. Lacy waved to the staff on her way out and tried to see if there was anything waiting for her in the dark. Seeing nothing threatening Lacy hurried home, she would also need to deal with her new doll. The girls would of course tell her to forget about it, nothing seemed to bother them, but Lacy was probably going to call the cops tomorrow.

“Hey Lacy how was work?” Ariel asked from the kitchen.

“Busy.” Lacy answered rubbing her back. “Where’s Sam?”

“She went out for a while.”

“What are you doing?”

“Just grabbing a snack and may be watching a movie.”

“You’re not going out tonight?” Lacy bugged Ariel, grabbing a handful of popcorn.

It was unusual for Ariel to be at home on a weekend, she was never lacking for friends or invites to parties.

“No, I feel like hanging out here tonight. Do you want to watch with me?”

“Sure. But before we do I want to show you what I got today.” Lacy said, pulling down the box.

“You got another gift?”

Lacy grimaced, “I wouldn’t call this a gift. I’m getting worried.” Ariel leaned forward and gasped, “Who sent that?”

“I don’t know, it just said a secret admirer.”

“How did it come? Did you find it outside again?”

“No, it came by courier.”

“I think you should call the police tomorrow.”

Lacy sighed with relief, “I’m glad you said that. I thought you might say I’m overreacting.”

“No, that’s three times now. Why don’t you put that away and come watch with me, get your mind off all of this.

Lacy was drifting off when a noise shattered the quiet.

What the heck was that? It was probably the girls downstairs. Sam had shown up when Lacy had been going to bed, and she and Ariel were staying up for a while. A scream came from below along with a thump. They better not be trying to scare her, Lacy thought, grabbing her house coat. Her door opened with a screech and she winced as she stepped through. It was dark downstairs, the T.V was playing quietly. There were no other noises filtering up. Lacy was getting nervous, she tiptoed closer to the banister and peered down. No movement, so she proceeded downstairs trying to avoid the squeaky steps. At the bottom step, Lacy sighed in relief glancing into the living room. She clamped her hand across her mouth in horror, Ariel lay on the floor her head at an unusual angle. What the hell was going on? Lacy whipped her head around at the sound of footsteps. Where was Sam? Was that her? Lacy walked toward the noise, dread filling her. Maybe she shouldn’t be doing this, should she run? This is stupid, but she continued. The kitchen was ahead, a light shining under the door. She hesitated before pushing gently on the door. This time she couldn’t stop the scream from bursting forth. Sam was propped up in a kitchen chair, her throat cut. Lacy glanced wildly around looking for the intruder. Who could have done this? Why? Were they responsible for the packages?

A hand snaked around the door and closed over Lacy’s mouth yanking her against a large body. A warm breath feathered across her cheek as a voice whispered, “Well, well look what we have here.” Lacy tried screaming, but his fingers held back the scream. Her struggles were useless, he was too strong.

Lacy woke up in a trunk and screamed until she was hoarse. The movement of the vehicle would throw her body against the side, once in a while, making her wince. As they came to a stop, she couldn’t stop the terror from filling her body. What was going to happen to her? She peered into the darkness looking for a weapon but the trunk was empty. Lacy held her breath hoping for a miracle and the lid swung up. Her captor wore a mask, and all Lacy could make out was a man with broad shoulders and a stomach to match. He pulled her out by the arms and set her down facing a large house. Lacy gazed around at her surroundings while the man shut the lid.

They were on the edge of the city on one of the acreages. A long, winding driveway was behind her and a walkway was in front. He still hadn’t said a word and Lacy demanded, “Where are we? What are you going to do to me?”

The man just grunted, and clamped a firm grip on her arm, as he pushed her to the waiting house. Towering trees surrounded the house and lights twinkled in most of the windows. Lacy heard a dog bark somewhere from within and couldn’t control the shiver that ran down her spine. She struggled briefly and the man barked “No!” and wrenched her body closer to him. Lacy blinked back the tears and stumbled up the steps toward the waiting door. The door swung open and Lacy was pushed in, to the shouts of “Surprise!”

Shock paralyzed Lacy as she stared at Sam and Ariel, grinning, in front of her and a large crowd behind.

“No, no it’s not possible.” Lacy said, in horror, tears streaming down her face. She whipped her head around and glared at the man behind. He had taken off his mask and a familiar face grinned back. “Happy Halloween.” He said.

The huge gash across Sam’s neck was very well applied; even up close it looked real. Lacy wasn’t sure how Ariel had broken her neck but she was great now. Lacy could feel the anger rise and knew if she didn’t leave words would be said. She looked once more at her friends, turned around, and walked out.

Ariel and Sam raced after Lacy and caught up at the bottom of the stairs.

“Come on, Lacy, where are you going?”

“Anywhere but here!” Lacy swiped her tears away. “You’re supposed to be my friends.”

“We’re sorry Lacy. We wanted you to have some fun at Halloween. There’s a party inside. Come on.” Ariel coaxed.

“You think having me see you dead and putting me in a trunk would be fun?”

“We’re sorry, please. We were trying to get you in the spirit.” Sam chimed in.

Both girls latched onto either side of Lacy and started propelling her toward the house.

“I am still really mad at you!” Lacy said, as they dragged her toward the waiting music.

Yvonne's first novel is Murder from Beyond the Grave

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A Double Treat from Cheryl Bradshaw

It's a double treat from New York Times Best Selling Author CHERYL BRADSHAW on my Halloweenish Mystery Thrill Ride.  First up is her take on some favorite Halloweenish thriller novels to break out in the chilly October nights and then the first chapter of the latest Sloane Monroe Mystery HUSH NOW BABY.

Halloween. It’s in the air. In books. In everything. It’s the time of year when I dust off an old, deliciously-nefarious tale, and indulge in the kind of reading that keeps me turning pages until the wee hours of the morning. When I think of Halloween, I think of horror and thriller novels, naturally, but I also think of movies and television shows that achieved success because they were based on books. 

I was a quiet, soft-spoken ten year old when the movie Something Wicked This Way Comes was released, a Disney film (if you can believe that), based on the book written by one of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury. I remember the first time Jonathan Pryce appeared on screen as Mr. Dark in his black top hat, wearing a long ribbon tied in a bow around his neck. In a word, the guy just looked creepy, walking the streets with a band of circus freaks behind him, his face stern, eyes curious—watching, drinking the town in. One look at this waifish man and I was both hooked and terrified.

Lorne is reading this one and loving it
I was twenty-four when I first fell in love with the works of James Patterson and his twisted tale about a savage serial killer going by the self-proclaimed name Casanova. As a writer, Kiss The Girls was inspiring, the kind of book I wanted to write, in the genre I wanted to write in. Patterson weaved a tale that was intriguing from beginning to end. Not since The Silence of the Lambs has a book moved me the way this one did.

This week I learned one of my favorite television shows of all times is being resurrected in 2016. Twin Peaks. It’s one of the only shows I’ve ever watched more than once just to catch all those little idiosyncrasies I missed the first time around, and believe me when I say, this show has them in spades.

Though Twin Peaks wasn’t based on a novel, I see similar uniqueness in one of my current favorite series, Blake Crouch’s Wayward Pines, which is currently set to air on Fox in 2014. The book series, including Pines, Wayward, and The Last Town, are not only a new, modernized version written in the flavor of Twin Peaks, but they also remind me of another one of my favorite shows, The Twilight Zone. To that end, I leave you with this question: As Halloween approaches, what is your “fifth dimension” when it comes to reading—the dimension of your imagination that inspires you? 

Chapter 1
Serena Westwood peeled back the quilt atop her four-poster bed and climbed in, reeling the covers over her shivering body until she’d cocooned herself inside. It was early September, and already the frigid fall air crept through the valley, misting it like a damp sheet struggling in the wind.
After a long, noise-filled day, all was still. There was a time when Serena loved the quiet, basked in the gentle, serene calm, but not now. Now she had more than herself to consider. At thirty-nine years old, Serena had almost convinced herself the role of “mother” was meant for everyone but her. She’d spent many restless nights in the same bed she relaxed in now, trying to accept the reality that she, and her husband, Jack, would remain childless forever. And yet, here she was, the proud new mother of a sweet baby boy.

Before Finn was born, Jack and Serena had run the gamut, trying everything from artificial insemination to in-vitro fertilization. Nothing took. Her womb, desolate and barren, had rejected it all. When conceiving a baby themselves was out of the question, they turned to surrogacy. Three potential candidates were interviewed. All were rejected. Another round of women were selected. None seemed like the right fit.

On the way home from the market one wintery afternoon, an SUV struck a patch of ice on the road. The vehicle careened into the oncoming lane, sideswiping Serena’s Subaru in the process. While waiting for police to arrive, Serena had taken refuge inside the Precious Gift Adoption Agency.
A firm believer in fate, Serena found herself explaining her unsuccessful plight to Teresa Foster, one of the case workers. Teresa was empathetic, her own life experience mirroring much of what Serena herself had endured, but Teresa’s attitude was different. In Teresa’s mind, infertility had led her to the greatest gift of all—adoption—and she prevailed upon Serena to think of adoption the same way.

One week and several conversations later, Jack and Serena filled out the necessary paperwork. And although Teresa cautioned them at the onset, saying the wait time for a newborn baby could be two years or more, a mere three months passed before a birth mother selected Serena and Jack as her adoptive parents. Four months later, Finn made his opening debut.

The faint hum of a stirring baby jolted Serena awake. She peered at the clock on the nightstand. Four a.m. It seemed like only minutes had elapsed since she rested her head on the pillow, and already, it was feeding time again.

“Mommy’s coming, Finn.” Her melodic voice drifted down the hall.
Serena coiled a tattered robe around her body, cinching it in front of her waist. She picked a few bobby pins out of the terry-cloth pocket and twisted her long, blond locks into a bun. She squeezed the lids over her hazel eyes open and shut a few times, forcing herself awake.
The frigid chill of the tiles beneath her feet as she made her way down the hall were a stern reminder to leave her slippers by her bedroom door next time. She entered the kitchen, her mind doing most of the work for her, having memorized her every move. After performing the same routine night after night, intelligent thought was no longer required. The bottles practically made themselves.

Cupping the bottle in her hand, Serena stirred the formula and water together and popped it into the microwave. She watched the hardened plastic revolve around and around on the circular glass tray like a carousel. For a moment, her eyes closed and she found sleep again until Finn’s desperate cries grew louder. She was used to the baby fussing, but he’d never been this agitated before.

“Almost there,” she called. “Mommy’s coming.”


She wasn’t used to the name. She wondered if she’d ever get used to it.
The microwave dinged. She removed the bottle and dipped her pinkie finger inside, ensuring the formula had heated just right. Perfect. She screwed the lid on and paused. The crying had stopped.

Had he fallen back to sleep?

All was quiet. Too quiet.

Tiptoeing to the other side of the house, she snuck up to the crib. A wave of panic gripped her. There was no baby.

A low, lucid chirp prompted Serena to whip around. She saw nothing at first, but there was something peculiar about the wall opposite her. A dark shadow in the shape of a person blackened its surface. Her eyes trailed the shadow to its source—the bedroom door. Was someone behind it?
“Who’s there?” Her voice trembled.

No response.

Her eyes tore across the lamp-lit room. Armed with nothing but the baby’s bottle, she saw no way to defend herself from the assumed attacker. Her mind raced back to a self-defense class she’d taken years earlier, remembering something the instructor had said about fingers being a person’s most viable weapon. “Jab them in the eyes,” he’d said, lecturing the room full of women on how to handle an intruder. “Fast and with all the force you can muster. Don’t think about it. Just do it.”

A knot wrenched her gut. “I asked who’s there. Show yourself.” She thought about adding the word “please,” but didn’t want to sound weak.
While there was no movement from behind the door, a second faint squeak emitted from Finn’s mouth.

“Who are you?” she cried. “Come out. I know you’re there.”
A man’s voice floated throughout the room. He spoke, but not to her. “Hush now.” His tone was rugged, yet soothing enough to quiet the child.
The man remained behind the door, toying with Serena. But why? It didn’t matter why. Not really. Whoever he was, he had her baby, and she was done playing his game. She shaped her fingers into a stiff V and surged forward. The man stepped out, anticipating her protective instinct to react. He had the height of a basketball player and the largest hands she’d ever seen. In one hand he held Finn. In the other, a Sig Sauer .45, aimed right at her head.

“Back…up,” he demanded. “Now.”

Staring down the barrel of a gun, Serena shied away, seeing no alternative than to comply with his demand.

“Why do you have my baby?” she whispered.

He bounced Finn up and down, his eyes never breaking contact with Serena’s terrified face. “My baby.”

He laughed, finding the comment amusing.

A defiant Serena refused to give in any more than necessary. “What do you mean your baby?”

A second nervous laugh escaped from the man’s lips.

Finn started to cry.

“He’s frightened,” Serena said. “Let me hold him. Please.”


“Please! You’re scaring him!”

She attempted to place the bottle on the nightstand.


“I was just going to—”

“Your hands,” he grunted. “Keep them where I can see them.”

She wasn’t sure whether to hoist them in the air, palms forward, like she was a hostage, or to let them fall to the side. He picked up on her uncertainty.

“Just … cross your arms or something.”

In his eyes she detected inner conflict, like he was wrestling with the decision of whether to keep Finn or give him back. Or maybe she had it all wrong. Maybe he was trying to decide whether she lived or died. His hands were steady, not sticky and pulsating like hers. Why was he there? What was his motivation? If only she could figure it out, maybe she could save them both.

She tried appealing to his sensitive side, if he had one. “My son’s name is Finn. We adopted him a few weeks ago. He’s our only—”

“Shut your mouth, lady. I don’t care.”

Finn squirmed, growing restless in the man’s hand.

Without stepping forward, Serena reached her hands out in front of her.

“Don’t … move,” the man said through gritted teeth.

He crossed in front of Serena, eased Finn back into the crib.

“Thank you.”

No response.

“We have a safe,” she added. “I’ll show you where it is. Okay?”

With the slowest of movements, she put one foot in front of the other, easing her way toward the door.

“You think I’m here to rob you?”

“Aren’t you?” she asked, without looking back.

“Lady, if I wanted to rip you off, I would have done it already.”

“If you don’t want money, what do you want?”

Thoughts swirled around in her mind, each more sinister than the one before. She breathed in, but it made no difference. It felt like all the air to the room had been sucked out. Another thought occurred: Is he here to rape me? Then why bother with the baby?

Serena reminisced on how grateful she’d been when her husband switched from days to swing shift at work. The bump in pay allowed them to come up with the adoption money they needed. Now she wished her husband was by her side, wished Jack was here.

Serena wrapped her arms around herself and bowed her head, pointing the way to the master bedroom at the other end of the hall. “Just get it over with … and then I want you to leave.”

“I’m sorry about this. Really, I am.”

“If you’re sorry, don’t do this. Just leave.”

“Why couldn’t you have stayed asleep?”

“Why couldn’t I …?” But it was too late.

He aimed the gun at the back of Serena’s head and fired.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Shattered Siesta excerpt by Carmen Amato

The Halloweenish Mystery Thrill Ride is speeding up.  Today my guest is Carmen Amato.  Can't afford to go on a trip to Mexico?  Pick up one of her books.  Sure, you will have to deal with some murder and mayhem, but what's a vacation without a little mystery?

Lorne, thanks so much for the invitation. My mystery series featuring Emilia Cruz, the first and only female detective on the Acapulco police force, is set in Mexico. One of the upcoming novels in the series, SHATTERED SIESTA, is built around the notion of Santa Muerte, the cult figure that is known as the Skeleton Saint, the Boney Lady, and the Death Saint.

And what better time to talk about this strange and powerful cult figure—reported by many to be the patron saint of the violent Mexican drug cartels—than the season of Halloween and the Day of the Dead. Worship of Santa Muerte is one of the fastest growing religious phenomena in the Western Hemisphere, despite the Catholic Church’s condemnation of the practice. There is a set of rituals, prayers, offerings, and colors connected with Santa Muerte, and spiritualism and magic are woven into the worship as well.

But instead of talking, let me share an excerpt from SHATTERED SIESTA, which will be released in late 2015. It follows the first three novels in the series; CLIFF DIVER, HAT DANCE, and DIABLO NIGHTS. All three books are available on Amazon for Kindle and in paperback.


“Young guy,” Detective Emilia Cruz said. “His throat is slit.” She’d seen enough dead bodies to know that the man in the tent had only been dead a few hours.

“Even I can see that.” Senior detective Franco Silvio held open the tent flap to let in the light and encourage the stink to float out as he squatted by the entrance. The early October morning sun seemed to thicken the smell of death in the fabric-bound space.

 “He didn’t put up a fight.” Emilia held up her latex-gloved hands as she knelt by the body to indicate that she’d found nothing in the pockets. “No identification except the El Machete tattoo. No signs of a struggle. Like he just laid there and let someone cut his throat.”

“He was asleep,” Silvio said. “Or passed out.”

“Probably,” Emilia agreed.

The body lay on top of an old sleeping bag, clad in faded jeans and a black tee shirt with some sort of logo on it. The feet were bare but looked to be the same size as a pair of nearby cross trainers. The head was nearly severed from the body and blood had pooled and then congealed under the body.

“Needle tracks?” Silvio asked.

“I can’t tell.” Emilia backed herself toward the tent flap and Silvio moved to the side. The tent was small, just big enough for two people and their camping gear. Or one dead body and a strange collection of souvenirs.

“Let’s get him out.” Silvio took her place inside the tent, grabbed the bottom edge of the sleeping bag and eased it out of the tent, the body sliding along as if on a stretcher.

Seagulls screamed overhead and the waves lapped at the shore only a few sandy yards away as Silvio straightened up. Emilia stripped off her latex gloves, her palms sweating despite the fact that it wasn’t that warm yet.

The victim looked even worse in the bright sunlight, although neither detective saw any indications he’d been a junkie. The break between the lolling head and the supine body was a clean, deliberate slash. The distinctive design on the inside of the right arm marking the man as a member of the El Machete gang was a good quality tattoo with thick greenish lines. He would have been a powerful man; even in death his arms were weighted with muscle and his hands looked powerful.

“Doesn’t really look like a camper,” Emilia observed.

Silvio’s cell phone rang and he punched a button and put the phone to his ear. The senior detective was a big man with a face that betrayed his years as a boxer. His hair was a gray crew cut and he wore his invariable uniform of white tee shirt, jeans, and shoulder holster hidden by a khaki bomber jacket.

Emilia took pictures of the face and body with her cell phone as Silvio gave the crime scene techs directions from the run-down hotel near the road.  When she’d snapped enough of the body, she walked towards the water’s edge, then turned and snapped a few more pictures of the tent and a grove of scrubby pines and rusty seagrass that separated the beach from the road. The sand was rippled but there was nothing useful; an overnight storm had scoured away the killer’s footsteps.

There were a few makeshift tents further along the beach, a stretch of desolate sand ringed with rocks on the inland side that made it less attractive to Acapulco’s mainstream tourists. The surfers who’d called to report the body had been a young gringo couple with bad Spanish made worse by what Emilia was fairly sure was their own drug use. They’d probably found the body in the tent while looking to score drugs from the motley assortment of surfers, junkies, vagrants and penniless adventurers who often camped out on this lonely strip of beach near Coyuca Lagoon, a few miles northwest of Acapulco. There weren’t many actual residents, just a vagrant population that would be hard to locate and question. They got all the information they were likely to get out of the couple, warned them to stay in the area and to call if they remembered anything else. They wouldn’t. Emilia had encountered that sort of tourist before.

She knew Silvio didn’t want the case and he had a point. Coyuca Lagoon was outside what was normally the Acapulco police department’s jurisdiction. But the new lieutenant now running the detectives squadroom had decided that they’d respond to any and all calls that came in. This was despite the fact that they still hadn’t replaced the two detectives lost a few months ago in a drug smuggling bust. Emilia and Silvio had a dozen open cases already and hiking out to Coyuca Lagoon wasn’t going to help them close any of them.

Silvio pocketed his cell phone and clumped across the sand to Emilia. “Found the hotel but couldn’t find the beach behind it,” he growled. “Like nobody’s ever been out of the fucking city before.”
Emilia glanced at her watch. They’d only been there about 40 minutes, which was a relatively short time. The crime scene technicians often took an hour or more. Or didn’t come at all, tying up detectives’ time waiting for a body to be collected and the crime scene at least dusted for fingerprints. All the detectives had learned to carry latex gloves and plastic zip-lock bags in their pockets so they could handle any evidence they came across.

The crime scene technicians weren’t lazy or incompetent. They were simply overloaded with work.
They had a shit job, Emilia reflected as she watched two men carrying heavy cases approach the tent from the edge of the pine grove. Crime scene techs earned little more than an ordinary beat cop—less than half what a detective earned—and had to handle dead bodies all day, much of the time in the hot sun. Yet they faced the same dangers as the rest of the cops in Mexico; all of them lived as perpetual targets of drug cartels determined to break down civil authority. Emilia often wondered which side was winning.

“Cleaner than most,” the lead tech said appreciatively as he dumped his case down beside the body lying on its blood-soaked sleeping bag.

“Looks like a dead junkie,’ Silvio said. “Killed by some surfer for his stash. But it isn’t.”

“Why not?” the tech asked.

Emilia held open the flap. “You’ll see.”

She crawled into the tent ahead of the tech, trying to keep from getting any more sand in her loafers or embedded in the knees of her jeans. The tech came in after her. He got all the way in before suddenly stopping and rearing back on his heels.

Madre de Dios,” he exclaimed, his face working with fear.

“Tell me about it,” Emilia said.

An altar to the dead, similar to an ofrenda commemorating the Day of the Dead, had been created against the tent wall opposite the body. A plank as long as Emilia’s arm held the offerings. A shriveled bouquet of marigolds, the traditional Day of the Dead flower, was crushed next to a bottle of cheap tequila and a trio of thick white candles wrapped in black gauze, the most deadly color in Santa Muerte’s arsenal of ritual. A few peso coins were scattered across the plank as well and Emilia saw a half-smoked cigar, long cold.

But it was the frayed poster-sized banner decorated with the image of Santa Muerte that caused a shiver to run down Emilia’s spine, the same as when she’d first seen the image. It was pinned to the tent canvas and depicted the Death Saint as a skeleton in a long black hooded robe. One bony hand held a scythe like a religious Grim Reaper and the other held out a globe to indicate Santa Muerte’s mastery over the earth.

“And look at this.” Emilia nearly had to snap her fingers to get the tech’s attention as he gazed, slack-jawed at the banner. “What do you make of all these broken pieces?”

Several muerto skeleton figurines, common items on Day of the Dead altars, were nearly hidden under the wilted marigolds. On a traditional ofrenda, the figurines might represent something related to the deceased, like their occupation, hobby, or pet.

But these muertos were simple male figures. Each was broken cleanly and deliberately in several places, with clean slashes through the thick papier maché. The heads were all severed, with a red substance like lipstick outlining the gash.

The scene, with Santa Muerte leering down from the gently billowing canvas tent wall, was a strange parody of a traditional ofrenda. But a Day of the Dead altar was meant to attract and celebrate the spirits of the deceased. This strange altar devoted to Santa Muerte was made to punish them.
The tech turned to Emilia, his eyes bulging in terror. Sweat dripped down his forehead. “I’m not touching this shit,” he said. “Do what you want with it but I’m not touching it.”


Lorne, thanks so much for hosting me and asking about the books. Your readers are invited to join my mailing list to get updates on the Emilia Cruz series, as well as a free copy of “The Beast,” the first story in MADE IN ACAPULCO: The Emilia Cruz Stories, which is available on Amazon. “The Beast” explains how Emilia fought her way into the detectives squadroom in the first place and introduces readers to the whole series. Go to to sign up for the free story and Happy Reading to all!

In addition to political thriller The Hidden Light of Mexico City, Carmen Amato is the author of the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco, including Cliff Diver, Hat Dance and the collection of short stories Made in Acapulco. Originally from New York, Carmen’s experiences living in Mexico and Central America drive the authenticity and drama of her thriller and mystery novels. Her Emilia Cruz series pits the first and only female detective on the Acapulco police force against Mexico’s drug war and culture of machismo.

See why Amazon Hall of Fame reviewer Grady Harp wrote: “For pure entertainment and a gripping story likely resulting in nail biting, read Carmen Amato's addictive prose. She knows this territory like a jaguar!”