Sunday, July 5, 2015

Books To Make Your Summer Sizzle



With the Fourth of July still ringing in our ears, I thought it high time I put up some great reads to make the rest of your summer sizzle.  A couple of these books are from May, but you don't want to spend your summer reading time without including them.  The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths, Come to Harm by Catriona McPherson, and Burnt River by Karin Salvalaggio were May reads that brought me into summer with a bang. With a huge interruption in my reading in June, I am going to have to backtrack a bit on that month, as I had some ARCs that I couldn't wait to get to coming out this Tuesday, July 7th.  Lori Rader-Day's Little Pretty Things and Lucy Burdette's Fatal Reservations will hit the shelves this first full week of June, and readers are in for a treat.  I'm posting the reviews of these five books so that those needing/wanting great books to include in their vacation packing will know that I've read them and highly recommend them.  I'm also including a list of books that I'm going to try to catch up on this summer and those still to come out that I'm excited about reading, plus a list of books published this year that I thoroughly enjoyed.  So, there really is no lack of reading material for your summer pleasure.  First the reviews:

May Publication Reviews for Summer Reading

Come to HarmCome to Harm by Catriona McPherson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


I was on edge during the entire reading of Catriona McPherson's Come to Harm.  I just knew at any moment the ax, so to speak, was going to fall.  Kudos to this brilliant author for creating this suspenseful atmosphere, where the reader steps carefully along with Keiko, the main character, into the dark secrets of Painchton, Scotland.  There are some comments I want to make, but it would be a disservice to new readers to ease the tension that winds one up reading this story.  I will say that there are a number of possible suspects in a number of possible scenarios of wrong doing. 

Keiko Nishisato has arrived in Painchton, Scotland to attend university in Edingburgh to work on her PhD.  She has a scholarship and is being sponsored by the Painchton traders and given a free apartment for three years.  It's all almost to good to be true, and Keiko begins to suspect that maybe that's exactly what it is.  Everyone is extremely friendly and eager to help her settle in, but there seems to be a hidden agenda that Keiko can't seem to crack.  She slowly acclimates herself to new customs and new food in this home six thousand miles away from Tokyo.  And, oh, the food is plentiful, with all the merchants wanting to feed her and teach her about traditional Scottish foods. Of course, Keiko's PhD original subject matter deals with food, so the residents are more than happy to help.  Then, the apartment that Keiko has been given is above the butcher shop, and she becomes friends with the two Poole sons who work in their family's shop.  Only their mother, Mrs. Poole, keeps her distance from Keiko and doesn't join in the town's enthusiastic welcome.  As Keiko digs in to work on her studies, she feels more and more that there information is being intentionally withheld from her and people might not be who they seem.  With several girls having left Painchton in a rather abrupt manner, Keiko begins to worry that it's urgent for her to discover why they left.

Come to Harm is yet another great read from Catriona McPherson.  A dark thriller, it will keep you on guard and give you the gasp you're waiting for.


The Ghost Fields (Ruth Galloway #7)The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


2013 was one of my best reading years ever.  It was the year that I discovered Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway series and got to read the first five Ruth Galloway novels one right after the other.  It was a blissful reading spring that year.  But, once you're up to speed in a series, there is the yearly wait for the next book, and in a favorite series such as this one by Elly Griffiths, it's a hard wait.  Once again, it was worth the wait.  The Ghost Fields brought to life those characters I missed so much.  Archeologist/professor/ Dr.Ruth Galloway, DCI Harry Nelson, Cathbad the Druid, Ruth's daughter Kate, DS Judy Johnson, DS David Clough/Cloughie, American academic/TV presenter Frank Barker, and even Phil Trent, Ruth's weasel boss.  These characters have been developed with

When the remains of a man, later to be identified as those of a member of a prominent family named Blackstock, are unearthed inside an American WWII plane in Norfolk , Dr. Ruth Galloway is called in by DCI Harry Nelson to help discover the chain of events leading to the dead man's death and subsequent placement in the plane, as her first pronouncement is that the victim had been shot in the head and couldn't possibly be the pilot.  Thus begins an investigation into the death of Fred Blackstock, originally thought to have died as a part of an American flight crew in the waters off of Norfolk.  The connection to what are called the "ghost fields" in the area is a step back into the days of WWII when there were American airfields established in Norfolk. 

DCI Nelson has his work cut out for him in dealing with the Blackstock family members who remain at Blackstock Manor, as buried secrets of missing family members and order of inheritance must be sorted.  To further frustrate Nelson is the arrival of a television company that is doing a film on the American ghost fields with the focus being on Fred Blackstock who early in his life relocated to America and ironically ended up dying so near his British ancestral home as a part of the American forces.  As well as the professional frustration, there is the added personal distraction with the American academic Frank Barker, who will narrate the film.  Frank and Ruth have a past together, but before that Nelson and Ruth had a past, and there are a lot of emotions running amok. When another present day murder occurs, the urgency to solve the mysteries of the past is full on. 

Griffiths gives us the intensity that always accompanies her stories, as dark secrets come undone and twists of fates surface.  There is never a lull in the flow of action and suspense.  The author masterfully lets the reader know that danger is right around the corner, but we are wonderfully surprised with it when it strikes.  The interplay of the characters and the growth of relationships and understandings throughout the series is a thing of beauty to watch.  Ruth Galloway is strong and competent, but she is human, and human have their frailties, too. She is one of my absolute favorite fictional characters. This book in the series is rather a crossroads for Ruth's personal life, and readers will be grateful for Ruth confronting some of her feelings for others. 

Fans of Elly Griffiths and this series are going to be most thrilled with this well-plotted mystery that answers so many questions on so many fronts.  


Burnt RiverBurnt River by Karin Salvalaggio

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


When you've read the first book in a series and loved it, there is great anticipation and some worry about the second book and its continued excellence.  Last year, Bone Dust White by Karin Salvalaggio was the author's debut novel, a fact that I found extraordinary due to its complex array of story and characters.  The main character, Detective Macy Greeley, is eight months pregnant and unmarried when the story begins.  Who starts the story of someone when she's eight months pregnant?  Well, Karin Salvalaggio does and does it brilliantly.  I stated at the time that Macy Greeley is a promise of layers to come.  So, we come to book #2, Burnt River, and Macy, with her flaws, strengths, and struggles becomes more whole, more solid, more fantastic to the readers.  Second book jitters for the reader evaporate.  Like its title suggests, this book (and this series) is on fire. 

We catch up with Macy eighteen months after the birth of her son, Luke.  She has been sent by her boss, State Police Captain Ray Davidson, to Wilmington Creek in northern Montana where a veteran of the Afghanistan wars has been murdered.  Macy isn't happy to be leaving her home in Helena and her son, and her personal relationship with Davidson continues to be a tangled web of promises and let downs.  However, if Maggie is confused about her personal life, she is the consummate state police detective, dedicated to uncovering the intricacies of murder. John Dalton, the recently returned Afghanistan veteran, seems an unlikely victim of a dark alley homicide, but secrets can obscure motives, and John had secrets that his sister Jessie and friends Dylan and Tyler are desperately trying keep hidden.  With the area experiencing an especially harsh heat wave and wildfires flaming, Police Chief Aiden Marsh already has his hands full, but he proves invaluable to Macy in her pursuit of local knowledge and connections.  As the heat intensifies from the temperature, the wildfires, and the investigation, Macy starts piecing together confusion into answers, but will she arrive at those answers in time to prevent more loss. 

Thank you, Karin Salvalaggio for providing me with a book that I didn't want to end and ensuring that the Macy Greeley series is the real thing in outstanding mystery fiction.  The only request I have now is to please write book #3 like a bat out of hell.  Please!   


 Out July 7th Reviews

Little Pretty ThingsLittle Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Can success or failure in high school continue to define a person ten years down the road?  In Lori Rader-Day’s latest novel, Little Pretty Things, Juliet Townsend seems forever stuck in the fallout from coming in second, never the winner or the one who receives the accolades and the rewards of being first.  Juliet has settled for less because she has never had more.  Working in a one-star motel on the edge of her small town Midway, Juliet herself admits that “(She) hadn’t moved on.”  It was typical of Midway, where people seem to fit the name, where people acquiesced instead of chasing dreams. Juliet’s one piece of salvation is her “little pretty things,” which she keeps hidden away.

But, the past can often prove to be a catalyst as well as a prison.  When Juliet’s best friend from high school, Madeline Bell, shows up at the Mid-Night Motel, Juliet is less than thrilled to be reunited with the person who beat her in every track race throughout high school and kept Juliet from a coveted scholarship to a brighter future.  Maddy is everything Juliet is not—well-dressed, well-traveled, polished, perfect face and hair, and wearing an enormous diamond engagement ring.  Maddy had escaped Midway, and hadn’t been in touch in the intervening decade.  Maddy wants to reconnect with Juliet and talk to her about “some things,” but Juliet brushes her off.  And then, Juliet finds Maddy dead, murdered.  Realizing that she is high on the suspect list of who killed Maddy, Juliet must revisit her and Maddy’s past to uncover long kept secrets with far-reaching effects.

Little Pretty Things is my first Lori Rader-Day read, and I can hardly wait to go back and read The Black Hour, her award-winning debut. Her writing is brilliantly suspenseful, and she makes even the most ordinary of characters interesting.  Little Pretty Things is a mystery, a self examination, a journey through time, and a cautionary tale.  I was indeed fortunate to receive an ARC through Goodreads, and I can guarantee this book is going to collect nominations and awards, too.                                                                                                                                                                                                                            




Fatal Reservations (Key West Food Critic Mystery, #6)Fatal Reservations by Lucy Burdette

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


If the Key West Food Critic Mystery series was food, it would be Key Lime Cake prepared by the chef at Firefly Restaurant in Key West, a dessert that just happens to be the most delicious, refreshing piece of eating that one's mouth could savor.  I truly come close to squealing with delight when each new book in this series deals with a different part of Key West that I have personally visited.  But, you needn't have visited Key West to enjoy these tasty morsels, because author Lucy Burdette creates a vivid picture that ensconces you into the atmosphere and geography of this island paradise, a paradise full of colorful people/characters and a bit of murder on the side.

In Fatal Reservations, Haley Snow, the food critic at Key Zest magazine and character who seems to always find herself in the middle of police business, is getting used to a new boss, Palamina Wells,  at the online magazine, while dating her other boss, Wally, there. Never a dull or uncomplicated moment with Haley, she is in the midst of gearing up to review Key West's new restaurant, a floating restaurant named For Goodness Sake, and she's keeping a watchful eye on her boathouse roommate, eighty-year-old Miss Gloria, who is a new volunteer at the Key West Cemetery.  Attending a city commission meeting over the controversy of the new restaurant bypassing certain regulations to which other land restaurants had to adhere.  The meeting also brings up another issue, the problem of allotting spaces to the Mallory Square Sunset Celebration performers.  It's a heated situation, and with the identification of a body that just washed up in brackish water as one of the Mallory Square performers, everyone is on edge.  When Haley's good friend whom she frequently consults, Lorenzo the tarot card-reader of Sunset Celebration fame, becomes the prime suspect in the murder, Haley must once again take matters into her own hands to try and help him.  If only so much evidence didn't point to him as guilty. 

Lucy Burdette has created a series that I have come to depend on as a guaranteed great read. The characters, the plots, the setting, the witty dialogue, and the food.  Oh, the food!  I consider these books my guide to eating in Key West, and I haven't been disappointed.  And, then there is Haley's fabulous cooking, for which Lucy so generously provides recipes at the end of the story.  It's with anticipation I open each new book, and with great joy I read each page.  The latest adventurous mystery with the great title of Fatal Reservations will charm you and thrill you with the best Key West has to offer.




More Summer Reads:

June New Publications
Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy
Language Arts by Stephanie Kallos
The Melody Lingers On by Mary Higgins Clark
The Mountain Story: A Novel by Lori Lansens

July New Publications
A Study in Death (Lady Darby #4) by Anna Lee Huber
A Deceptive Homecoming by Anna Loan-Wilsey
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee


August New Publications
Malice at the Palace (Lady Georgie #9) by Rhys Bowen
Devil's Bridge (Alexandra Cooper #17) by Linda Fairstein
The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny
X by Sue Grafton

Books Published Earlier This Year I'm Still Trying To Catch Up On
Runaway by Peter May
A Fine Summer's Day by Charles Todd
Devil in the Deadline by LynDee Walker
The Orphan Choir by Sophie Hannah
Death of a Liar by M.C. Beaton
Canary by Duane Swierczynski
Leaving Berlin by Joseph Kanon
The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M.J. Rose
Inspector of the Dead by David Morrell
A Deadly Affair at Bobtail Ridge by Terry Shames
Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight
The Masque of a Murderer by Susanna Calkins
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Fatal Flame (Timothy Wilde #3) by Lyndsay Faye
Little Black Lies by Sharon (S.J.) Bolton

Books Published Earlier This Year I Loved, Reviewed By Me On Goodreads
As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley
The Forgotten Girls by Sarah Blaedel
Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King
Two Parts Bloody Murder by Jen J. Danna with Ann Vaderlaan
The Edge of Dreams by Rhys Bowen
Night Night, Sleep Tight by Hallie Ephron
Murder in Hindsight by Anne Cleeland
Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Author Spotlight on Anne Cleeland: Interview, Sneak Preview, and Giveaway




        


One of the reasons that reading is such an amazing adventure is that it's full of discoveries, ones that make you wonder how you ever existed without the author and books to which you suddenly have been introduced.  Anne Cleeland came into my reading world in the summer of 2013, and her unique Acton and Doyle series completely captured my heart and imagination.  To see just how much I love these books, go to the Reviews section of the blog.
 
Not only is Anne Cleeland a brilliant author, but she is a gracious, lovely person who is generous with her time and interaction.  So, it is with the greatest pleasure and enthusiasm that I present an interview with Anne Cleeland, and what is a great thrill for those of us already enamored of the Acton and Doyle series, a preview of book #4 entitled Murder in Containment.  Yes, fans who hang on every word of this series, there is an excerpt of the next book after the interview!  But, don't skip the interview because Anne reveals great insight into the world of Chief Inspector Michael Acton and Detective Sergeant Kathleen Doyle, and she gifts us with fascinating information on her writing and how she came to this series. Oh, and if you comment on something in the interview content, you might get picked to receive a copy of one of Anne's Acton and Doyle boooks.


Anne Cleeland Interview:

1.                Anne, before you wrote the Acton and Doyle mystery series, you authored two historical fictions, Tainted Angel and Daughter of the God-King, which are wonderful reads as well.  What was the impetus for switching to the mystery genre?
            
      This is a chicken-and-egg question, Kathy!  I love the Regency era (early 1800’s) and I’m a big Jane Austen fan. (Note:  alert readers will see references to Pride and Prejudice in the Acton and Doyle series.)  
     So I decided to write a Regency story, but I was struggling to come up with a decent plot.  For inspiration, I went to listen to Stephanie Laurens, who’s written a million Regencies.  She explained to the audience that she didn’t write a plot as much as she pictured a scene in her head—and for me, it was one of those Aha! moments.  I’d been thinking about a scene in my head, so I went home and banged it out—the Grantham Street stakeout scene in Murder in Thrall.   Suddenly there they were—these two people, having this incredibly awkward conversation, and both wearing a mask, because they couldn’t let the other see who they really were.  After that, I wrote the first three books in the Acton and Doyle series almost without stopping, and only then did I write the historical books.
     It just goes to show—go with your instinct.  If you are writing a story, it shouldn’t be a struggle.  It’s OK to listen to advice, but find your own formula. 


2.   I think all of the fans of the Acton and Doyle series are fascinated with Acton’s “special condition.”  So, please can you enlighten us as to how you came up with this particular condition for Michael Acton?
            
     As you can probably tell, I’m a big Sherlock Holmes fan, and I thought about what it would be like if Holmes fell in love—it wouldn’t be a normal romance, would it?  So that was the germ for the idea.  It’s tricky, though, because I have to be careful to avoid making him creepy—there were some editors and agents who thought it was a non-starter.  
     As Doyle would put it, he’s madly in love, with the emphasis on mad.  A reader wanted to know when we’re going to get some backstory, and it’s coming, I promise!


3.    Doyle’s Irish lingo and personality both keep her in trouble and endear her to readers, but I’m wondering how you came about deciding on the lead female as Irish.
            
     The story has a Cinderella element, which may not be politically correct, but makes it more appealing, I think.  (And they are mutually good for each other; after all, she’s rescuing him more than he’s rescuing her.) 
     So Doyle needed to be working-class, and being Irish meant it was even more of a mismatch—not to mention Irish women have a long history of being “fey.”  Part of her charm, I think, is because she’s such a fish out of water, working at Scotland Yard and married to a famous aristocrat.  


4.    Without giving anything away, with Acton and Doyle enjoying a very close and active relationship, do you think that Michael would be able to share Kathleen with a child?
             
     That’s the big question, and it adds an element of uncertainty.  On the one hand, he’s a little dark and ruthless—especially when it comes to his relationship with Doyle. On the other hand, he’s not going to do anything to make her unhappy (well, nothing that she finds out about, anyway.)  So we shall see.


5.    How much do you have to work on getting the wonderfully witty and engaging dialogue between Acton and Doyle?
             
     This is one of those things that writers are afraid to say because it makes them sound a little coo-coo:  It’s as though you are listening to a conversation, rather than making it up.  I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer, and when the two of them start talking to each other, I’m typing as fast as I can just to keep up—the first draft doesn’t get revised very much.   
     Their conversations are a lot of fun because he’s cool and Holmes-like, while she’s a wisecracker. Somehow, it works.


6.    Your secondary characters, DS Thomas Williams and DS Isabel Munoz, add so much to the enjoyment of the books.  Can you expound upon their place and importance in the series?
          
     I think I’m an old-school writer—I like to have a clear protagonist whose point of view we share, and secondary characters whose role is to interact with the protagonist. 
     Munoz is the classic mean girl (we’ve all met one) and Doyle is equal parts annoyed and envious. For her part, Munoz is conflicted, because she doesn’t want to like Doyle, but we can see that she does. 
     Williams is the classic true-blue friend, but he’s conflicted because he’s in love with Doyle, even though he knows he shouldn’t be. 
     Each of these characters interacts with Doyle in a way that makes her more relatable to the reader, I think.  


7.   England as the setting?  As Acton is a Lord, I understand that England is the perfect setting, but did you have other reasons for England?  (England happens to be my favorite setting for a story.)
             
     England is my favorite setting, too!  And I’ve always loved British detective stories—and Masterpiece Mystery, too.   Acton gets away with murder (literally) because he’s a member of the aristocracy.  And it also means that there’s an evil dowager, and a manor house, and fastidious servants—it just wouldn’t be the same story, if it were set anywhere else.


8.    There are readers that I know, including myself, who are so in love with this series, I think we’d like some reassurance of its continuing.  Are there a certain number of books planned in the series or a dedicated goal of where the series wants to take Acton and Doyle?
             
     The next book is called Murder in Containment, which refers to murders that are committed to contain a scandal, or to cover-up wrongdoing.  I’m not certain about the release date yet, but I’ll keep you posted, never fear!  
      Book #5 is Murder in All Honor, and that’s what I’m working on right now.  Lots of surprises, coming up! I’ll be happy to keep writing them as long as anyone wants to read them, there’s no particular goal—as you know, it’s just one long, winding story.  (And alert readers will always see the seeds for the next story in the previous book.)


9.    With all the book festivals and gatherings that are now in operation, how do you choose which ones to attend?  Are there certain ones that are a must for you?
           
     Mystery conferences are fan-oriented, and if your readers enjoy mysteries, it’s a lot of fun to attend one.  Bouchercon is the big, national conference in October (held in Raleigh, this year) and I also like to attend the Malice conference in Washington DC every May.  There are regional conferences, too—I attend one on the west coast called (appropriately) Left Coast Crime. Conferences are a great opportunity to meet your favorite authors and fellow readers; I’ve made lots of new friends.  


10.      Marketing is so important to the success of books, what do you or your publisher consider the most important ways of getting the word out?
             
     You are looking at it!  Websites and blogs are so influential, today—there was never an easier way to get the word out to so many people!  It used to be that New York reviewers would try to dictate what was popular, but now all the power is with the readers, which is how it should be. 
     Nowadays, the publishers expect the author to do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to marketing, so I’ve taken to facebook and twitter, too. (@annecleeland)  And I’m happy to come speak at book groups and libraries—please contact me at www.annecleeland.com.
     But nothing beats guest-posting on a popular blog like this one. Thanks, Kathy!

 
11.   What would you like your readers to know about you          that isn’t in your bio information?  Any special interests or   talents (besides your magnificent writing)?
           
     I love, love, love college football. My best friend from college goes with me to all the UCLA games, and no one else is invited because we don’t like to be distracted.  It’s a lot of fun!


12.         It’s always amazing to me that authors actually find time to read other authors, with your writing, book touring, and other book events, but it appears that authors do make time for other reading.  What are you currently reading or have recently read?
          
     I don’t read as much as I used to, but I am reading Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King (speaking of Sherlock Holmes!) Her Mary Russell series is terrific.


13.  And, just because readers are usually curious how their favorite authors manage the writing process, are you more of an organized plotter/outliner or a seat-of-the-pants writer?   Do you have certain times of the day you feel more productive in your writing?  Also, as readers often have favorite reading places, do you have a favorite writing place? 
           
     As I mentioned, I’m a seat-of-the-pants writer, which is no easy feat when you are writing a mystery.  For example, in Murder in Containment, I had to go back and add in a character, because I realized at the end that he was one of the villains, but I’d hardly mentioned him in the story. (See if you can figure out who ;)
     And I can write anytime, anywhere—middle seat on the airplane? No problem!  I love it so much that it’s hard to stay away.  I do think I’m a little sharper in the morning, but overall it doesn’t seem to matter; I write when I’m watching TV in the evenings, too.



Anne's Bio:

Anne Cleeland is a lifelong Southern California resident, and currently makes her home in Newport Beach. An attorney by trade, she's been reading mystery stories since her Nancy Drew days, and especially loves Agatha Christie and the other Golden Age British mystery writers.  Her Acton & Doyle mystery series  features two Scotland Yard detectives, and if you are a fan of Masterpiece Mystery, you may enjoy this series. 


Anne also writes a historical series set in 1814 because she loves historicals, too. Being a romantic at heart, all her stories have a strong romantic element.


She has four grown children, three wonderful grandchildren, and one nutty dog.

www.annecleeland.com @annecleeland


 Murder in Containment Excerpt


Chapter 3

             Later that day, Doyle stood beside Acton and the coroner as they somberly contemplated the dead SOCO photographer, lying in her bleak stainless steel drawer in the morgue. Law enforcement necessarily involved personal risk; still, it was never easy to lose one of their own, and one would think a Scene of the Crime Officer—and a photographer, to boot—would not be in any particular danger.  Upon hearing the news, Doyle had sacrificed her lunch hour to visit the decedent—not much of a sacrifice, really, since she’d no appetite to speak of in the first place.  And despite the fact he was hip deep in high-profile cases, Acton had offered to accompany her, and so here they were, taking a long, dispassionate look at the remains of the blonde woman in her thirties who’d evidently met a bad end.  The lividity marks showed she’d died prone on her back, and the bruise patterns indicated one or more blows to the forehead.  After a small silence, Doyle asked Acton, “Do we have a preliminary report?”
            “Found dead in her flat; reported by a neighbor who noticed the smell. Possible domestic violence; the neighbor remembers hearing an altercation with a man.”
            The coroner indicated with a finger, “Cause of death was blunt force trauma; fractures to the frontal bone and supraorbital process. Weapon was cylindrical; estimate 3 inches in diameter.”
            Doyle nodded. Dr. Hsu, the coroner, tended to be very matter-of-fact about the most grisly of subjects, no doubt a result of his profession mixed with his Chinese heritage—Doyle had the vague idea that the man’s religious beliefs included the recycling of departed spirits.  I suppose that would put a different light on death, thought Doyle, if you believed that the persons lying before you would come back to life under a different identity, good as new.
            “She faced her killer, then. Defensive wounds?” asked Acton. If there had been a face-to-face battle, the chances were good that the woman would have helpful DNA on her hands or arms.
            “None apparent,” was the coroner’s regretful answer. “And although we took swabs from under her nails, preliminaries indicate that she was wearing latex gloves, even though there were none at the scene. Some spot bruising on her forearms—nothing of significance.”
            “Perhaps because she warded off the blows?”  Doyle demonstrated by raising her arms and crossing them. “Otherwise, she just let someone come up and conk her in the face, which seems unlikely.”
            “Only spot bruising on her arms,” Acton reminded her. “Therefore, not from blows.”
            Doyle frowned as she considered this paradox—paradox being a vocabulary word—but Acton was apparently following his own train of thought.
             “Was she reclining when struck?”
            “Upright,” the coroner replied. “Then fell back.”
            “Sexual activity?”
            “Nothing evident.”
            “Was she bound?”
            “No—no bruising at the wrists.”
            “Tox?”
            “Prelim shows no drugs or alcohol.”
            Acton was silent for a moment, and Doyle took the opportunity to ask, “Who’s been assigned to the case? And have we any likely suspects?”
            Acton replied, “DI Chiu is the Crime Scene Manager. No obvious suspects; no indication there was a steady boyfriend.”
Doyle made a wry mouth. “Not a surprise, my friend. She carried a crackin’ torch for you, you know.”
He did not disclaim, but remained thoughtful. “That doesn’t mean she didn’t have a boyfriend—or someone.”
But Doyle shook her head doubtfully. “With her, I’m not so sure—she was the reclusive type; I imagine she rarely went anywhere.  She probably did those role-playing video games, and kept a cat.”
            The coroner lifted the corpse’s hand. “The cat had started in on her fingers.”   It was an unfortunate truism that when cats were hungry, they were not sentimental creatures.
            “No sign that the motive was robbery,” Acton noted.  “But it may be helpful to delve into that aspect, and take another careful look `round.”
            Doyle wasn’t sure she followed him. “And why is that?”
            Acton crossed his arms, his hooded gaze on the woman’s remains. “She was struck facing her attacker, yet there are no signs that she attempted to ward off the blow. What does that tell you?”
            The penny dropped, and Doyle looked up at him. “She couldn’t see him.”
            He nodded. “So it was either dark, or she was blindfolded.  But she was upright, not bound, and we’ve ruled out sex play, so it must have been dark. He may have been lying in wait.”
            Doyle knit her brown, considering this. “But there were reports of a verbal altercation.”
            “Indeed.”
            “Then—then I suppose we’re speakin’ of two different people?”
            “Perhaps,” said Acton, who was not a leaper-to-conclusions. 
            At Acton’s signal, the coroner moved in to zip the bag and re-shelve the corpse, and Doyle took the opportunity to observe in a low voice, “I don’t know, Michael; it doesn’t seem in keepin’—that she had a fight with someone outside her flat, and then got coshed by someone  else, waitin’ inside.  Some people—” she tried to put her instinct into words. “Some people are lookin’ to get themselves murdered, and some people are not. She’s one of the nots.” 
            “Yet here she is,” he gently pointed out.
            Stubbornly, she persisted.  “I’m only spoutin’ your theory, my friend; if the facts don’t fit the usual motivations, then attention should be paid. The SOCO people are inclined to blather in their cups—perhaps she said the wrong thing to the wrong person, and this is a containment murder.  It may be useful to take a peek at her recent caseload.”
            Acton made no immediate response and she eyed him, aware that the dead woman was willing to work off the grid for Acton, so to speak, and on at least one occasion had manipulated evidence for him.  Hopefully, I am not yet again investigating a murder that my own husband committed, she thought crossly, and briefly toyed with the idea of asking him outright. Instead, she asked, “Was she doing anythin’ for you on the side, Michael?”
            He was amused, and glanced at her. “Is that a euphemism?”
            “No, it is not.”  She was not in a joking mood, a rarity for her.
            “No, on both counts.”  He paused. “I discouraged any attempts to communicate outside of work, and she was someone who didn’t want to be rebuked.”
            No, thought Doyle; she was the type who was content to entertain fantasies, rather than act on them. “Can you put me on the case? I always felt a bit sorry for her, and now I’m sorrier still.”
            He met her eye, and Doyle knew exactly what he was thinking. “I’ll be safe as houses, Michael—and I’m dyin’ for a new assignment.  I’ll just go ask a few questions, have a look `round her flat, and see what there is to see.” Inspired, she added, “I need somethin’ to take my mind off the mornin’ sickness.  I’ll feel better if I’m doin’ good works.”
            “Right, then.  But no heroics.”          
            “Not to worry; I am in no shape, my friend.”
            Acton had to leave after taking a call on some urgent matter, so Doyle rang up DI Chiu with an eye to going out immediately to interview the neighbors—it was important to move quickly, before any leads went cold.
            But when she picked up, DI Chiu was not necessarily pleased to hear that Doyle was to join her team. “The PCs already did a preliminary, DS Doyle.”
            “I know, ma’am, but I knew the victim, and I’d like to lend a hand.” Doyle then played her trump. “DCI Acton is the SIO, and he’s given the go-ahead.”
            There was a slight pause. “I will meet you there, then.”
            Doyle copied the address, rang off, and then immediately rang up Williams as she made her way up the stairs from the morgue. “Hey.”
            “Can’t talk long; I’m heading into the interview room.”
            “I’ll make it quick; tell me about DI Chiu.”
            “Smart. Doesn’t suffer fools.”
            Oh-oh, thought Doyle. “Well, aside from that, why wouldn’t she like me?”
            “Not a clue, Kath; maybe she’s territorial, and doesn’t like the Acton connection.”
            “There’s not the smallest chance I’d be promoted over her, for heaven’s sake.”
            “I’ve got to go—I’ll ring you later.”
            “It’s not important, Thomas, I’ll see you tomorrow.” Thoughtfully, Doyle rang off and headed outside, hoping the victim’s flat had been aired out—the scent of decomposition always set her off, nowadays, and she didn’t want to give her husband any excuse to take her off her only remaining case.