Guest Blogger ~ Sharon Marchisello

Setting a Mystery in the Galapagos

When my husband and I took our bucket-list vacation to the Galapagos in 2014, I had no idea I’d set a book there; otherwise, I’d have written off the trip on my taxes. (If you’re looking for the Galapagos on the map, it’s a group of  islands straddling the equator, approximately 600 miles off the Pacific Coast of Ecuador.) But I didn’t get the idea until six months later, when something triggered an experience from our cruise that I thought would make a great opening scene for a mystery.

Normally, the guides were conscientious about counting heads and watching over all the passengers in their charge whenever we were away from the ship. In an archipelago comprising 97% national park containing flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth, tourists must be carefully supervised. But one day, my husband and I left another activity to join a snorkeling excursion already in progress, so neither of the guides assumed responsibility for us.

We were swimming along, marveling at the vast array of colorful underwater life, when I surfaced to see both Zodiac boats motoring back to the ship—without us! I can still feel the panic of being left alone in the middle of the ocean, treading water off the shore of an island populated only by sea lions and blue-footed boobies.

I waved and screamed, popping up and down like a cork, and fortunately, someone spotted me. One of the boats turned around and came back to pick me up. I didn’t see my husband right away but told the guide he was still out there. In a moment, he’d swum up and climbed aboard. All was well.

But what if…. What if my protagonist’s companion didn’t get picked up? And what if the person was left behind on purpose?

When Secrets of the Galapagos begins, my heroine, Giovanna Rogers, is snorkeling with her new friend, tortoise researcher Laurel Pardo. The two get separated from the group, and Laurel disappears. And then no one on the ship will acknowledge that Laurel didn’t make it back.

Trying to determine a motive, I recalled a conversation I’d had with one of our guides during a visit to the Charles Darwin Research Station in Puerto Ayora, the largest town on Santa Cruz (one of only four inhabited islands in the chain). “I know a secret about Lonesome George,” he said. “But if I tell you, I’ll have to kill you.” Lonesome George was a Galapagos giant tortoise made famous for being the sole survivor of the Pinta Island species. Unfortunately, efforts to breed George were unsuccessful, and the ancient tortoise passed away in 2012 without an heir.

But what if someone discovered another giant tortoise from a different subspecies also thought to be extinct? And then a tortoise researcher unearthed some information about the animal that certain individuals in the tourist industry didn’t want released?

You’ll have to read Secrets of the Galapagos to find out what happens next.

Shattered by a broken engagement and a business venture derailed by Jerome Haddad, her unscrupulous partner, Giovanna Rogers goes on a luxury Galapagos cruise with her grandmother to decompress. At least that’s what her grandmother thinks. Giovanna is determined to make Jerome pay for what he’s done, and she has a tip he’s headed for the Galapagos.

While snorkeling in Gardner Bay off the coast of Española Island, Giovanna and another cruise passenger, tortoise researcher Laurel Pardo, become separated from the group, and Laurel is left behind. No one on the ship will acknowledge Laurel is missing, and Giovanna suspects a cover-up.

When the police come on board to investigate a death, Giovanna assumes the victim is Laurel. She’s anxious to give her testimony to the attractive local detective assigned to the case. Instead, she learns someone else is dead, and she’s a person of interest.

Resolved to keep searching for Laurel and make sense of her disappearance, Giovanna learns several people on board the ship have reasons to want Laurel gone. One is a scam involving Tio Armando, the famous Galapagos giant tortoise and a major tourist attraction in the archipelago. And Jerome Haddad has a hand in it. Thinking she’s the cat in this game, Giovanna gets too involved and becomes the mouse, putting her life in jeopardy. But if she doesn’t stop him, Jerome will go on to ruin others.

Buy links:

https://www.amazon.com/Sharon-Marchisello/e/B00NH6N4WK

https://www.sunburypress.com/collections/sharon-marchisello

Sharon Marchisello is the author of two mysteries published by Sunbury Press—Going Home (2014) and Secrets of the Galapagos (2019). She has written short stories, nonfiction, training manuals, screenplays, a blog, and book reviews. She earned a Master’s in Professional Writing from the University of Southern California and has been an active member of Sisters in Crime since 1995, currently serving as treasurer of the Atlanta chapter. Retired from a 27-year career with Delta Air Lines, she now lives in Peachtree City, Georgia, and volunteers for the Fayette Humane Society.

Website: sharonmarchisello.com (https://smarchisello.wordpress.com/)

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https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4297807.Sharon_Marchisello

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Photos source: Sharon Marchisello

Guest Blogger ~ Lois Winston

Truth, Lies, and Fiction

My plots have always been influenced by real-life crimes and human-interest stories. However, with Guilty as Framed, my latest Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, the story is more than influenced by an actual crime; it incorporates that crime, one that has fascinated me for decades, into the story. This, of course, posed various challenges, especially since it involved a cold case that was rife with lies, misdirection, and botched investigations.

The crime in question was the 1990 burglary of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, considered the largest art heist in history. The theft consisted of priceless masterpieces by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Manet, Degas, and others. It involved such disparate characters as a pot-smoking security guard, the Irish mob, and even the Pope. It included the unsolved murders of some of the suspects and as the years passed, the deaths of most of the persons of interest.

There were sworn statements by mob relatives and associates claiming to have seen some of the missing paintings over the years, as well as speculation that the artworks are in Saudi Arabia. And in what must be one of the oddest law enforcement press conferences on record, thirteen years after the robbery, the head of the Boston FBI announced the crime had been solved, although he presented none of the missing artworks nor announced any arrests. He then ended with a plea to the public for help in solving the case.

True crime and cozy mystery are two distinct genres. One is fiction; the other is not. But in weaving a true crime into my fiction, I wanted to hone as closely as possible to the actual events of the case. To do so, I had to take some creative liberties. I decided to focus my story around one specific incident that involved a mob associate and his wife, weaving that aspect of the actual investigation into my plot.

Even though these people have since died, I changed their names and the names of other suspects and persons of interest who I incorporated into my story. (When dealing with members of organized crime, even ones long dead, it’s best to play it safe!) I also created additional characters, thus enabling me to weave a thirty-two-year-old Boston cold case into a series that takes place in present-day New Jersey.

Guilty as Framed is the eleventh book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. In each book I’ve challenged myself to create stories unlike my previous ones. No reader wants to read a book where only the names and places (and possibly the murder weapon) differ from other books in the series. This current book was my greatest creative leap to date. I’m hoping readers find the book as enjoyable to read as I did to write.

Guilty as Framed

An Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery, Book 11

When an elderly man shows up at the home of reluctant amateur sleuth Anastasia Pollack, she’s drawn into the unsolved mystery of the greatest art heist in history.

Boston mob boss Cormac Murphy has recently been released from prison. He doesn’t believe Anastasia’s assertion that the man he’s looking for doesn’t live at her address and attempts to muscle his way into her home. His efforts are thwarted by Anastasia’s fiancé Zack Barnes.

A week later, a stolen SUV containing a dead body appears in Anastasia’s driveway. Anastasia believes Murphy is sending her a message. It’s only the first in a series of alarming incidents, including a mugging, a break-in, another murder, and the discovery of a cache of jewelry and an etching from the largest museum burglary in history.

But will Anastasia solve the mystery behind these shocking events before she falls victim to a couple of desperate thugs who will stop at nothing to get what they want?

Buy Links

Paperback: https://amzn.to/3QLEYU5

Hardcover: https://amzn.to/3Ans5s6

Kindle: https://amzn.to/3tLnT3d

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/guilty-as-framed

Apple Books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/guilty-as-framed/id6442846272

Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/guilty-as-framed-lois-winston/1141500980?ean=2940185728703

USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Learn more about Lois and her books at her website www.loiswinston.com where you can also sign up for her newsletter and follow her on various social media sites.

Guest Blogger ~ Eileen Curley Hammond

I was in the middle of writing the seventh book in my Merry March cozy mystery series, and to be honest, I was struggling. Then, editor Cass Kim sent a Twitter request for the annual charity short story anthology, Autumn Nights: Nine Stories to Nibble at your Nape.

Even though I love writing daily micro-stories on Twitter, my total experience with slightly longer shorts was holiday ones for our local Sisters in Crime chapter (Buckeye Crime Writers). Luckily, Cass had been following my writing, so I was accepted into the Anthology.

The required elements were to include a bat(s), autumn themes, and be spooky. I’m a pantser and cozy mystery writer, so it should come as no shock that what emerged on the page was a cozy mystery that happens to have a bat as one of the main characters.

You would think that short stories would be easier to write. After all, the word count for the project was less than 8,000, and cozy mystery novels are usually 60,000 plus. But remember, you still need a beginning, a middle, and an end that make sense. Plus, it’s confusing to the reader to have too many characters in a short space, so your potential for red herrings is limited.

I love a challenge, and this was a fun one. It was also good to know that profits from this book will benefit The Trevor Project, which is dedicated to providing crisis support and safe spaces for young LBTQ+ individuals.

The Autumn Nights Anthology is available as both an e-book and paperback. Here is a teaser about my story in the Anthology:

An Unexpected Talent: Miranda had a bad day that she thought couldn’t get a lot worse. And that was before she stumbled over the dead body. Now she’s in the middle of a Halloween murderer hunt, and failing to uncover the perpetrator will mean the end of the world.

I’m pleased with where the story ended up and was very happy with the beta readers and editor, who made it even sharper. Writing the short story also allowed me to experiment more with humor, which I’m actively trying to incorporate into my novels as a break in the suspense. And the even better news is that a hiatus reenergized me, and I am now close to finishing my seventh book, which should be released in November. You can find all of my Merry March cozy mysteries here.

Eileen Curley Hammond retired from a successful marketing career in the insurance industry and now writes the Merry March cozy mystery series. When not pondering all that bats contribute to this world, she is hard at work on book seven of the series. To learn more about her and to sign up for her newsletter, check out her website:

www.eileencurleyhammond.com

WHEN AGING IS A CRIME? by J.L. Greger

The sale of anti-aging products in the U.S. is estimated to about $12 billion annually. The worldwide market may be four times at large. Not surprisingly, mislabeling and false claims for these products are rampant.

Although there is no doubt that injections of BOTOX and other botulinum products are effective in reducing the signs of aging (i.e. reducing crow’s feet around the eyes, laugh lines, and wrinkles on the brow), many doubt the wisdom of—but not the profits from—BOTOX parties. At these events, women receive injections of botulinum toxin at multiple sites in a party environment in someone’s home with plenty of food and alcohol. Nevada has now banned these at-home parties. Many states require that injections at these parties be made by a physician or nurse. However, basic safety requirements are more difficult to maintain at these parties than in a clinic.

In the U.S., the FDA is the chief agency monitoring the safety of cosmetic products and assessing the veracity of the claims. Many Americans don’t realize FDA can not only fine but also incarcerate manufacturers and spa/store owners that knowingly produce, advertise and sell dangerous or mislabeled items.

I like to describe the situation in the cosmetic industry this way: those who try to make the public believe it is a crime to look old are sometimes committing crimes. That’s a basic premise in my new mystery.

In FAIR COMPROMISES, twenty residents in New Mexico come into clinics and doctors’ offices complaining of double or blurred vision, sagging eyelids, and headaches the day after a political rally. Public health workers quickly hypothesize the cause was botulism toxin in improperly home canned food served at the rally. Unfortunately, one individual’s symptoms are much more severe. If her muscle paralysis continues unchecked, she will die. New Mexico health officials contact the FBI because that patient is a candidate for the U.S. Senate and they fear she may have been targeted.

The mystery turns from being the analysis of a severe food safety breach to the investigation of a diabolical murder attempt using “cosmetic” botulism toxin when scientist Sara Almquist with the help of a talented FBI lab crew discover a more sinister source of the toxin at a health and beauty spa in Santa Fe. FDA officials then help the FBI solve this case and seek justice for the victims.

FAIR COMPROMISES has message: It’s not a crime to show your age and the relentless search for youthful beauty can be dangerous.

Now you’re ready for some fun. Read FAIR COMPROMISES and see what happens to a politician who tried too hard to look young.

Fair Compromises

In FAIR COMPROMISES, Sara Almquist and her FBI colleagues rush to find who endangered the lives of a hundreds at a political rally by poisoning the food with botulism toxin. The poisoners’ target was a woman candidate for the U.S. Senate; the rest were just collateral damage. As these agents track clues from a veterans’ hall in Clovis to health spas of Santa Fe, they must make a multitude of personal and professional (perhaps too many) compromises.

https://www.amazon.com/Fair-Compromises-Science-Traveler-Greger/dp/1735421421

J.L. Greger is a scientist turned novelist. She includes science and international travel in her award-winning mysteries and thrillers: The Flu Is Coming, Games for Couples; Dirty Holy Water, Fair Compromises, and seven others. https://www.jlgreger.com

Guest Blogger ~ Dianne Freeman

An Inspirational Feud

My Countess of Harleigh series takes place among the aristocracy of late Victorian London. That era and group of people provide an endless supply of situations on which to hang a murder mystery. The inspiration for my latest book was an unusual feud between two millionaires of the Gilded Age—John MacKay and Charles Bonynge.

The men had quite a bit in common. John MacKay came to the US from Ireland. In 1851, at the age of twenty, he made his way to California where he worked as a miner for eight years. Tired of mining, he began a mine-servicing business. As mining expanded, his business boomed. He continued to maintain ownership in a few mines as he was sure there was more silver to be found. He was right. One of his mines hit the Big Bonanza, the greatest mining strike in the history of the American West, and made him a millionaire many times over. He and his wife relocated to San Francisco.

Meanwhile, Charles Bonynge immigrated to the US and headed west. He worked in San Francisco in a livery stable while speculating on the stock market. In the 1860s he too moved to Nevada, where he worked in the mines and traded in mining shares. After a while, he quit mining to set himself up as a stockbroker and met with great success. Bonynge, along with his wife and step daughter, moved to San Francisco, where Mackay became one of his clients.

Bonynge and MacKay had a business relationship that appeared to be cordial and lasted for several years. Then Bonynge retired, but not before he made some public comments about MacKay’s unethical business practices.

So began the feud.

Both families had homes in London and they all showed up for the social season of 1886. On the same day, Mrs. MacKay and the Bonynge family were meant to be presented to Queen Victoria at one of her Drawing Room afternoons. Unfortunately for Mrs. Bonynge, a newspaper ran a story revealing that she had been divorced, which made her ineligible to meet the queen. Mr. Bonynge and their daughter attended without her. Only the MacKays could have provided that tidbit to the papers. If this was the opening salvo in the feud, they were happy to fire back. They revealed to a reporter that when MacKay met his wife, Louise, she was working as a washer woman in mining camp.

Despite their wealth and class, the feud, which carried on for four years, was every bit as dirty as the Hatfields and McCoys and far more public. Enough so, that I had to wonder what would happen if one of these men was murdered? Wouldn’t the police immediately suspect the other party in the feud? And if someone else wanted to murder one of these men, what better time than when he was involved in an openly hostile feud with someone else? It was the perfect time. And that’s where A Bride’s Guide to Marriage and Murder begins.

A BRIDE’S GUIDE TO MARRIAGE AND MURDER

On the eve of her marriage to George Hazelton, Frances has a great deal more on her mind than flowers and seating arrangements. The Connors and the Bainbridges, two families of American robber barons, have taken up residence in London, and their bitter rivalry is spilling over into the highest social circles. At the request of her brother, Alonzo, who is quite taken with Miss Madeline Connor, Frances has invited the Connor family to her wedding. Meanwhile, Frances’s mother has invited Mr. Bainbridge, and Frances fears the wedding may end up being newspaper-worthy for all the wrong reasons.

On the day itself, Frances is relieved to note that Madeline’s father is not among the guests assembled at the church. The reason for his absence, however, turns out to be most unfortunate: Mr. Connor is found murdered in his home. More shocking still, Alonzo is caught at the scene, holding the murder weapon.

Powerful and ruthless, Connor appears to have amassed a wealth of enemies alongside his fortune. Frances and George agree to put their wedding trip on hold to try and clear Alonzo’s name. But there are secrets to sift through, not just in the Bainbridge and Connor families, but also in their own. And with a killer determined to evade discovery at any cost—even if it means taking another life—Frances’s first days as a newlywed will be perilous indeed.

You can find links to all Dianne’s books here: Dianne Freeman | Historical Mystery Writer (difreeman.com)

Goodreads: Dianne Freeman (Author of A Lady’s Guide to Etiquette and Murder) | Goodreads

Dianne Freeman is the acclaimed author of the Countess of Harleigh Mystery series. She is an Agatha Award and Lefty Award winner, as well as a finalist for the prestigious Mary Higgins Clark Award and the Sue Feder Historical Mystery Award. After thirty years of working in corporate accounting and finance, she now writes full-time. Born and raised in Michigan, she and her husband split their time between Michigan and Arizona. Visit her at www.DiFreeman.com.

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