Five things you might not know about . . . Clea Simon

cross my path An elderly woman seeks private investigator Care’s help in finding out what happened to her brother – a woman who Blackie senses he’s met before, some time before he became a cat. But who is she . . . and what is their connection? At the same time, a dockworker asks Care to find a colleague who’s gone missing. But how come a poor labourer has the funds to pay for Care’s services? As Blackie and Care delve further, it becomes clear that neither client has been telling the whole truth. And then the investigation takes a disturbing new twist . . .


Our favourite feline, Blackie, returns in this twisty new mystery! Care’s reputation as a private investigator is growing and clients are beating a path to her door, but the reappearance of an old enemy from the past spells trouble for her and Blackie . . . Find out some interesting facts about author Clea Simon – and cats – below!

Did you know . . .  that the myths about black cats are relatively modern? In Ancient Egypt cats of any colour were considered divine (and, thus, good luck) and in the ancient Norse legends, the goddess Freya rode in a chariot pulled by a pair of black cats.

In the past . . . I’ve worked in just about all aspects of newspapers and for years was a music critic.

Professional organisations/societies . . . I’m a member of the Cat Writers’ Association, an international professional association. Also, Sisters in Crime, Mystery Writers of America and National Book Critics Circle.

Books I’ll always keep . . . More and more, I’m realizing that my childhood favorites, C.S.Lewis’s “Chronicles of Narnia” and J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings” have influenced me as an adult writer.

You might not know . . . I worked with a mass murderer in high school. The convicted murderer Joel Rifkin was the photographer of my high school newspaper when I was the editor. So much for my instincts!

CROSS MY PATH is out 30 March in the UK and 1 July in the US. Find out more about this title and others in the Blackie & Care series here.


Sleuthfest 2018: Marty Ambrose

Marty Ambrose, author of the fascinating new historical mystery featuring Lord Byron, CLAIRE’S LAST SECRET, not only attended the recent 25th anniversary of Sleuthfest in Florida – she was also on a historical mystery panel with D.J. Niko and Diane A.S. Stuckart! What’s her top tip for incorporating research into writing? Read on . . .


Sleuthfest in Boca Raton, Florida, is an amazing writers’ event every year, and this one was special: the 25th anniversary of the conference! I’ve attended only a dozen or so –but never returned home without having acquired new knowledge and new friends. Only at Sleuthfest can you learn how about murder and marketing during the same day. This year, I had the opportunity to be on a “Historical Mystery” panel with my fellow writers, D.J. Niko and Diane A.S. Stuckart. We covered a variety of topics that explored how to include important facts in historical novels – and not to show “our index cards.” A tough task, to be sure. I shared my strategy for incorporating research in my new historical mystery, CLAIRE’S LAST SECRET: start with journals and diaries from the era to add the personal perspective, then “shade” the scene with touches of authentic details. A historical mystery still needs to be character-driven – besides, it is fiction after all. Or so we think . . .


CLAIRE’S LAST SECRET is available from 31 May/UK and 1 September/US. Read more about this exciting new historical mystery here.

Behind the Book: NO SECOND CHANCES by Don Bruns


second chances

One of Quentin Archer’s fellow officers has been shot dead in broad daylight, in his own squad car. A random cop killing . . . or something more sinister? With no leads to go on, Archer turns to voodoo queen Solange Cordray for help. But is he prepared to take her advice?

As Archer uncovers some surprising facts about the dead man’s past, there is another murder. With the simmering racial tensions in the city threatening to escalate into outright violence, Archer begins to suspect there’s far more to Officer Leroy’s killing than he’d first supposed. Could it be part of a carefully-orchestrated plan of revenge . . .?


NO SECOND CHANCES is a wonderfully engaging mystery which, like the previous two titles in the Quentin Archer series, CASTING BONES and THRILL KILL, also reflects larger talking points in the news. Author Don Bruns explains the theme that runs through the series . . .

My three Quentin Archer novels are themed with what is called “ripped from the headlines” plots. Stories that reflect front page news. Kirkus says of NO SECOND CHANCES: “headline-driven paranoia.”

The first book, CASTING BONES, was written about the corrupt prison system in Louisiana. THRILL KILL involves human trafficking in The Big Easy, and NO SECOND CHANCES takes on the Black Lives Matter theme.

The murder of a white cop, followed by the shooting of an unarmed black burglar has all the elements of a race-induced hate crime. But what if it wasn’t? Whatever the reasons for civilians and police being gunned down, the numbers are growing. The headlines are becoming more gruesome and the stories more compelling.

Checking statistics for the first two months and eleven days of this year in the United States, the police have killed 195 civilians. Civilians have killed 21 law enforcement agents. It’s a staggering number of killings just seventy days into 2018. I think NO SECOND CHANCES speaks to that epidemic.

Find out more about the Quentin Archer mysteries here.




March UK titles coming soon!

Coming 30 March . . . From the streets of Victorian Leeds to a top-secret facility in World War II America, our March mysteries are full of intrigue and surprises!

Red Hand of Fury 4The Red Hand of Fury
by R. N. Morris

June, 1914. A young man is mauled to death by a polar bear at London Zoo, while another young man leaps to his death from a notorious Suicide Bridge. Two seemingly unconnected deaths, but there are similarities. Following a third attempted suicide, DI Silas Quinn knows he must uncover the link between the three men if he is to discover what caused them to take their own lives. A card was found in each of the victims’ possession, depicting a crudely-drawn red hand. What does it signify? To find the answers, Quinn must revisit his own dark past. But can he keep his sanity?

tin god

The Tin God
by Chris Nickson

Leeds, England. October, 1897. Superintendent Harper’s wife Annabelle is one of seven women selected to stand for election as a Poor Law Guardian, but Annabelle and the other female candidates start to receive anonymous letters from someone who believes a woman’s place lies firmly in the home. The threats escalate into outright violence when an explosion rips through the church hall where Annabelle is due to hold a meeting – with fatal consequences. With the lives of his wife and daughter at risk, the political becomes cruelly personal for Tom Harper . . .


murder1Murder Takes a Turn
by Eric Brown

Langham’s literary agent, Charles Elder, receives a cryptic letter inviting him to spend the weekend at the Cornish home of successful novelist Denbigh Connaught. Accompanying Charles to Connaught House, Langham and his wife Maria discover that they are not the only guests. And when a body is discovered in Connaught’s study, dark secrets that haunt the past of each and every guest – including Charles Elder himself – are uncovered.


daeth of a noviceDeath of a Novice
by Cora Harrison

When new young nun, Sister Gertrude, is found dead inside a wooden shed, the Reverend Mother delves into her background and finds some puzzling anomalies. Could there be a link between her death and the gunpowder explosion on Spike Island? The answers to this question and more must be found if the Reverend Mother is to catch a vicious murderer.



sabotage in the secret

Sabotage in the Secret City
by Diane Fanning

May 1945. Harry S. Truman has become president, the Allied Forces are closing in on Berlin and the research scientists at the secret facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, are doing their bit to bring the war to a conclusion. But does the end justify the means? A campaign of small acts of sabotage convinces Libby that one of their number is deliberately trying to delay the mission. But when the pranks turn deadly, can Libby unmask the traitor within?


queen's progressQueen’s Progress
by M J Trow

May, 1591. Queen Elizabeth decides to embark on a Royal Progress, and Kit Marlowe is sent ahead to ensure all goes smoothly. But Marlowe’s mission is dogged by disaster with the discovery of bodies along the way. Are the incidents linked? Is there a conspiracy to sabotage the Queen’s Progress? To uncover the truth, Marlowe must come up with a fiendishly clever plan.


cross my pathCross My Path
by Clea Simon

Care’s reputation as a private investigator is growing and clients are beating a path to her door. An elderly woman seeks Care’s help in finding out what happened to her brother. Blackie senses he’s met this woman before, sometime before he became a cat. But who is she – and what is their connection? At the same time, a dockworker asks Care to find a colleague who’s gone missing, and the investigation takes a disturbing new twist . . .

Behind the Book: NIGHT OF THE LIGHTBRINGER by Peter Tremayne


Ireland, AD 671. On the eve of the pagan feast of Samhain, Brother Eadulf and the warrior, Aidan, discover a man murdered in an unlit pyre in the heart of Cashel. He has been dressed in the robes of a religieux and killed by the ritualistc ‘three deaths’.

When a strange woman known as Brancheo appears in a raven-feather cloak foretelling of ancient gods returning to exact revenge upon the mortal world, she is quickly branded a suspect. But in their search for the killer, Sister Fidelma and Eadulf will soon discover a darker shadow looming over the fortress. For their investigation is linked to a book stolen from the Papal Secret Archives which could destroy the New Faith in the Five Kingdoms . . . and Fidelma herself will come up against mortal danger before the case is unravelled.

The masterfully engaging Sister Fidelma mysteries are set mainly in Ireland during the mid-seventh century AD. This fascinating insight into FIDELMA’S WORLD, written by author Peter Tremayne, is taken with kind permission from the Sister Fidelma Society website

Sister Fidelma is not simply a religieuse, a former member of the community of St Brigid of Kildare. She is also a qualified dalaigh, or advocate of the ancient law courts of Ireland.

Ireland, in the seventh century AD, consisted of five main provincial kingdoms; indeed, the modern Irish word for a province is still cuige, literally “a fifth”. Four provincial kings – of Ulaidh (Ulster), of Connacht, of Muman (Munster) and of Laigin (Leinster) – gave their qualified allegiance to the Ard Ri or High King, who ruled from Tara, in the “royal” fifth province of Midhe (Meath), which means the “middle province”. Even among the provincial kingdoms, there was a decentralisation of power to petty-kingdoms and clan territories.

The law of primogeniture, the inheritance by the eldest son or daughter, was an alien concept in Ireland. Kingship, from the lowliest clan chieftain to the High King, was only partially hereditary and mainly electoral. Each ruler had to prove himself or herself worthy of office and was elected by the derbhfine of their family – a minimum of three generations from a common ancestor gathered in conclave. If a ruler did not pursue the commonwealth of the people, they were impeached and removed from office. Therefore the monarchical system of ancient Ireland had more in common with a modern-day republic than with the feudal monarchies which had developed elsewhere in medieval Europe.

Ireland, in the seventh century AD, was governed by a system of sophisticated laws called the Laws of the Fenechus, or land-tillers, which became more popularly known as the Brehon Laws, deriving from the word breitheamh – a judge. Tradition has it that these laws were first gathered in 714 BC by the order of the High King, Ollamh Fodhla. But it was in AD 438 that the High King, Laoghaire, appointed a commission of nine learned people to study, revise, and commit the laws to the new writing in Latin characters. One of those serving on the commission was Patrick, eventually to become patron saint of Ireland. After three years, the commission produced a written text of the laws which is the first known codification.

The first complete surviving text of the ancient laws of Ireland is preserved in an eleventh century manuscript book. It was not until the seventeenth century that the English colonial administration in Ireland finally suppressed the use of the Brehon law system, following the devastating conquests that lasted from 1541 to 1691. To even possess a copy of the law books was punishable, often by death or transportation even towards the end of the eighteenth century.

It was at the insistence of Charles Graves (1812-1899), grandfather of Robert Graves (1895–1985), that the British Government set up a Royal Commission in 1865 to rescue the law texts, translate and edit them. Charles Graves, from an Anglo-Irish family was Bishop of Limerick, President of the Royal Irish Academy and an expert on Ogham writing. He was also a professor at Trinity College, Dublin. Thanks to Graves, six volumes Ancient Laws of Ireland were published between 1865-1901.

The law system was not static, and every three years at the Feis Temhrach (Festival of Tara) the lawyers and administrators gathered to considered and revise the laws in the light of changing society and its needs.

Under these laws, women occupied a unique place. The Irish laws gave more rights and protection to women than any other western law code at that time or until recent times. Women could, and did, aspire to all offices and professions as co-equal with men. They could be political leaders, command their people in battle as warriors, be physicians, local magistrates, poets, artisans, lawyers and judges. We know the names of many female judges of Fidelma’s period – Brig Briugaid, Aine Ingine Iugaire and Dari among others. Dari, for example, was not only a judge but the author of a noted law text written in the sixth century AD. Women were protected by law against sexual harassment; against discrimination; against rape; they had the right of divorce on equal terms from their husbands, with equitable separation laws, and could demand part of their husband’s property in a divorce settlement; they had the right of inheritance of personal property and land and the right of sickness benefits when ill or hospitalized. Ancient Ireland has Europe’s oldest recorded system of hospitals. Seen from today’s perspective, the Brehon Laws provided for what might be considered a society approaching an almost feminist paradise.

This background, and its strong contrast with Ireland’s European neighbours, should be understood in order to appreciate Fidelma’s role in these stories. Fidelma was born at Cashel, capital of the kingdom of Muman (Munster) in south-west Ireland, in AD 636. She was the youngest daughter of Failbe Fland, the King, who died the year after her birth. Fidelma was raised under the guidance of a distant cousin, Abbot Laisran of Durrow. When she reached the “Age of Choice”, considered the time of maturity for woman (fourteen years), she went to study at the bardic school of the Brehon Morann of Tara as did many other young Irish girls in search of higher education. Eight years of study resulted in Fidelma obtaining the degree of anruth, only one degree below the highest offered at either bardic or ecclesiastical universities in ancient Ireland.

The highest degree was ollamh, which is still the modern Irish word for a professor. Fidelma’s studies were in law, both in the criminal code of the Senchus Mor and the civil code of the Lebor Acaill. Thereby, she became a dalaigh or advocate of the courts.

Her main role could be compared to a modern Scottish sheriff substitute whose job is to gather and assess the evidence, independent of the police, to see if there is a case to be answered. The modern French juge d’instruction holds a similar role. However, sometimes Fidelma is faced with the task of prosecuting in the courts or defending, even rendering judgments in minor cases when a Brehon was not available.

In those days, most of the professionals or intellectual classes were members of the New Christian religious houses, just as, in previous centuries, all members of the professions and intellectuals had been Druids. Fidelma became a member of the religious community of Kildare founded in the late fifth century AD by St Brigid. But she decided to leave Kildare in disillusionment. The reason why may be found in the title story of the Fidelma short story collection Hemlock At Vespers.

While the seventh century AD was considered part of the European “Dark Ages”, for Ireland it was a period of “Golden Enlightenment”. Students from every corner of Europe flocked to Irish universities to receive their education, including the sons of many of the Anglo-Saxon kings. At the great ecclesiastical university of Durrow, at this time, it is recorded that no fewer than eighteen different nations were represented among the students. At the same time, Irish male and female missionaries were setting out to reconvert a pagan Europe to Christianity, establishing churches, monasteries, and centres of learning throughout Europe as far east as Kiev, in the Ukraine; as far north as the Faroes, and as far south as Taranto in southern Italy. Ireland became a byword for literacy and learning.

However, the Celtic Church of Ireland was in constant dispute with Rome on matters of liturgy and ritual. Rome had begun to reform itself in the fourth century, changing its dating of Easter and aspects of its liturgy. The Celtic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches refused to follow Rome, but the Celtic Church was gradually absorbed by Rome between the ninth and eleventh centuries while the Eastern Orthodox churches had continued to remain independent of Rome. The Celtic Church of Ireland, during Fidelma’s time, was much concerned with this conflict so that it is impossible to write of Church matters without referring to the philosophical warfare between them.

One thing that was shared by both the Celtic Church and Rome in the seventh century was that the concept of celibacy was not universal. While there were always ascetics in the Churches who sublimated physical love in a dedication to the deity, it was not until the Council of Nicea in AD 325 that clerical marriages were condemned but not banned in the Western Church. The concept of celibacy arose in Rome mainly from the customs practised by the pagan priestesses of Vesta and the priests of Diana.

By the fifth century, Rome had forbidden its clerics from the rank of abbot and bishop to sleep with their wives and, shortly after, even to marry at all. The general clergy were discouraged from marrying by Rome but not forbidden to do so. Indeed, it was not until the reforming papacy of Leo IX (AD 1049-1054) that a serious attempt was made to force the Western clergy to accept universal celibacy. In fact, Leo went so far as to order that wives of priests should be sent as slaves to the Lateran palace, then the papal centre, while Urban II, in 1189, ordered that wives of priests could be seized as slaves by members of the nobility. Many wives of the clergy were driven to suicide by these rulings. The bulk of the religious of the Celtic Church took centuries to give up their anti-celibacy attitudes and fall into line with Rome. However, in the Eastern Orthodox Church, priests below the rank of abbot and bishop have retained their right to marry until this day.

An understanding of these facts concerning the liberal attitudes towards sexual relationships in the Celtic Church is essential towards understanding the background to the Fidelma stories.

The condemnation of the “sin of the flesh” remained alien to the Celtic Church for a long time after Rome’s attitude became a dogma. In Fidelma’s world both sexes inhabited abbeys and monastic foundations, which were known as conhospitae, or double houses, where men and women lived raising their children in Christ’s service.

Fidelma’s own house of St Brigid of Kildare was one such community of both sexes during her time. When Brigid established her community of Kildare (Cill-Dara – the church of the oaks) she invited a bishop named Conlaed to join her. Her first biography, completed fifty years after her death, in AD 650 during Fidelma’s lifetime, was written by a monk of Kildare named Cogitosus, who makes it clear that it continued to be a mixed community in his day.

It should also be pointed out that, demonstrating women’s coequal role with men, women were priests of the Celtic Church in this period. Brigid herself was ordained a bishop by Patrick’s nephew, Mel, and her case was not unique. Rome actually wrote a protest, in the sixth century, at the Celtic practice of allowing women to celebrate the divine sacrifice of Mass.

Unlike the Roman Church, the Irish Church did not have a system of “confessors” where “sins” had to be confessed to clerics who then had the authority to absolve those sins in Christ’s name. Instead, people chose a “soul friend” (anam chara), out of clerics or laity, with whom they discussed matters of emotional and spiritual well-being.

In writing these stories, I have not invented one law nor presented any legal matter, or, indeed, any background detail, that cannot be substantiated by historical research into evidence or literary remains of the period.

To help readers locate in Fidelma’s part of Ireland in the seventh century, where its geo-political divisions will be mainly unfamiliar, most of the books carry a sketch map. To help readers more readily identify personal names, a list of principal characters is given in each book.

I have generally refused to use anachronistic place names for obvious reasons although I have bowed to a few usages; eg Tara, rather than Teamhair; and Cashel, rather than Caiseal Muman; and Armagh in place of Ard Macha. However, I have cleaved to the name of Muman rather than the prolepsis form “Munster” formed when the Norse stadr (place) was added to the Irish name in the ninth century AD and eventually Anglicized. Similarly I have maintained Laigin rather than the Anglicized form of Leinster based on the Norse form Laighin-stadr and Ulaidh rather than Ulaidh-stadr for Ulster.

The foregoing information may merely enhance your trip into Fidelma’s world but, hopefully, a deep academic understanding of ancient Ireland should in no way be a perquisite for what, after all, is primarily entertainment.

April UK and August US Editor’s Pick: HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT by Mary Ellis

The Editor’s Pick for April UK/August US is HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT by Mary Ellis, chosen by Kate Lyall Grant, Publisher.



We are delighted to welcome award-winning author Mary Ellis to the Severn House list with HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT, the first in the brand-new Marked for Retribution mystery series featuring private investigator Kate Weller. Combining an intriguing central mystery (or two), a likeable heroine with a dark shadow in her past, and a delicious incipient love affair at its core, HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT kept me gripped from the get-go.

On the run from a troubled past, Kate Weller, the newest member of Price Investigations, covers her tracks, changes her name and takes a case in Charleston, South Carolina, where she can hide in plain sight. Renting a charming room with a waterfront view, Kate sets about trying to locate her adopted client’s natural siblings, only to find more questions than answers when she eventually tracks down a long-lost sister. Meanwhile, her new landlord won’t stop sticking his nose into her case. As far as Kate’s concerned, Eric Manfredi should focus on whatever competitor is bent on ruining his family business. But when petty vandalism turns lethal, and Eric’s father is arrested for murder, Kate determines to prove his innocence. Can she find the real culprit before a killer from her own past tracks her down?

With its pacy and eventful plot, sparky, lively dialogue and two immensely attractive leads in Kate Weller and her landlord Eric Manfredi – not to mention his large, loud, open-hearted and incorrigibly nosy Italian-American family – this appealing mix of suspense and romance should strike a chord with fans of Laura Lippman and Joy Fielding. We hope Kate and Eric will continue to join forces in solving many mysteries to come!

Find out more about this title here.

#BookExtract: THE GIRL IN THE WOODS by Patricia MacDonald

girl woods

“I did something bad.”

Blair Butler rarely returns to her small hometown in the Pocono mountains. Her best friend Molly was murdered in the woods there fifteen years ago, but now she has been summoned home to see her terminally ill sister one last time – only for Celeste to make a shocking deathbed confession. Is it really true that the wrong man has spent fifteen years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit?

Having promised her dying sister that she would do her best to right the wrongs of the past, Blair sets out to discover what really happened that cold, wet November night fifteen years before. But is Blair prepared for the shocking truth . . .?


A deathbed confession has chilling consequences in this page-turning new novel of psychological suspense from Patricia MacDonald, author of 15 internationally bestselling novels of thrilling domestic suspense. Our publisher Kate Lyall Grant has hailed Patricia as “a master of her craft and at the top of her game” for THE GIRL IN THE WOODS, and we were gripped from start, filled with curiosity as to what really happened to Molly Sinclair. If you like stories full of twists, intrigue and shocks, this is one for you . . . Read the extract below and prepare to be hooked!   


The hours dragged but the days seemed to pass in a twinkling.

Celeste rarely opened her eyes and when she did, she seemed to look upon the room and the friends and family members gathered there, as if she were already far, far away. Once in a great while she would utter a few words, but they were often garbled, and made no sense.

Sometimes Malcolm would come and stand beside the bed, staring silently at his mother. Blair tried to talk to him, but he mostly ignored her attempts, retreating to his room. One night, as Blair was sitting beside Celeste’s bed, all her muscles cramped, longing for the peace and release of a long yoga class, she suddenly saw Celeste’s eyes open and stare at her.

‘Hi sweetie,’ she said, glad she was here, rather than off in some class contorting herself into the downward dog. Here she was needed. Though, in truth, she was no longer sure if Celeste was aware of anyone or anything around her.

Celeste frowned, the parchment-colored skin of her forehead rippling slightly. She spoke in a whisper and Blair had to lean over to hear her.

‘I have to tell you something,’ she said quite clearly.

Blair’s heart jumped. ‘Anything,’ said Blair.

There was a painful silence.

‘I did something bad,’ Celeste whispered.

‘Oh Celeste. There’s nothing bad that you did,’ Blair said urgently. ‘Nothing that matters now. You’ve always been the best mother and the best sister . . .’

‘Blair . . .’ Celeste said, a note of impatience in her scratchy voice.

Blair was shocked by her sister’s insistence. She acquiesced immediately.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Blair. ‘Tell me what you were going to say.’

Celeste closed her eyes and, for a moment, Blair thought she was going back to sleep. And then she seemed to marshal her forces. She opened her eyes and looked straight at Blair.

‘Adrian Jones,’ she whispered.

The name surged through Blair like a jolt of electricity. It was about the last thing she had expected to hear. No one had mentioned that name in years. Adrian Jones. Blair understood that he had another name now. Something Muhammed. He had become a Muslim in prison. He was in the state penitentiary at Greenwood.

He was serving a life sentence for the murder of Molly Sinclair.

Blair frowned at her sister. ‘What about him?’ she asked.

Celeste stared at Blair for what seemed like a long time. She licked her lips a few times, as if she was going to speak and then she didn’t.

‘You’re talking about the guy that killed Molly,’ Blair prodded her.

Celeste looked relieved, as if she was not sure that Blair had understood who Adrian Jones was.

‘He didn’t,’ she whispered. ‘I was there.’

‘You were where?’ Blair demanded. ‘I don’t . . .’

‘That night. In his car. Like he said.’

Blair stared at her dying sister, trying to grasp what she was hearing. On the evening that Molly was killed, after she left Blair’s house, it had begun to rain. Blair could remember looking out at the rain and worrying about her friend. Chased away by Uncle Ellis, Molly had set out walking without even an umbrella or a raincoat. During the trial, the prosecution produced a witness; a delivery truck driver who had seen a car pull up beside Molly that rainy evening, on the road leading into the woods and saw Molly get in. From the man’s description, they were able to trace the car to Adrian Jones.

Adrian Jones, a young African-American man who had been picked up a few times for possession of marijuana and shoplifting, knew Molly. His mother made pies and pastries for the Apres Ski café. When he was questioned, Adrian insisted indignantly at first that it was not him, not his car. When the police searched his car and found Molly’s cell phone, wedged in the back seat, Adrian changed his story. He admitted picking Molly up, but insisted that he was not alone when he stopped for her. Celeste was with him and recognized the girl as Blair’s friend. They offered Molly a ride because of the rain.

Uncle Ellis had been apoplectic when he heard this incredible lie. Blair could remember the raised voices, the accusations, the word ‘nigger kid’ spat repeatedly from Uncle Ellis’s lips. Celeste had been steadfast, insisted that she was nowhere near that car. That she didn’t even know Adrian Jones. Without an alibi, Adrian Jones became the obvious, the only suspect. At his trial, the jury convicted him in less than two hours.

‘Celeste, that can’t be. He went to jail for that. Adrian Jones. He’s been in jail for . . . years.’

‘Yes,’ Celeste croaked. ‘I lied.’

‘But why?’ Blair demanded, shocked by her sister’s treachery.

‘What were you thinking? Didn’t you know what kind of trouble you were getting him into? You were sixteen. You had to know what would happen.’

‘I didn’t . . .’ Celeste protested, and Blair saw tears form in her fever bright eyes.

Celeste held Blair’s fingers in a surprisingly strong grip. Blair could see that it was taking every ounce of her will to explain this.

‘Uncle Ellis. Me with Adrian . . . He would have killed me. Put us out in the street. You were so young,’ Celeste said. She closed her eyes.

Oh no, thought Blair. Wait, just a minute. She had to stifle the impulse to tear her fingers from Celeste’s grip. To push her away. You didn’t do this for me, she wanted to say, don’t use me as your excuse.

‘I’ve been gone from this house for years,’ she cried. ‘But Adrian’s still in jail. And you’re saying now that he’s innocent. How could you . . .?’

‘I was a coward,’ Celeste whispered.

‘Celeste, my God . . .’

‘I’m sorry,’ Celeste whimpered. ‘Sorry.’

But even as she reeled with disbelief, Blair knew that Celeste was right about one thing. Uncle Ellis never made any secret of the fact that having to raise his nieces had ruined his life. It would have seemed like all the rationale he needed to pitch them out. To expect a teenager to stand up to her bitter guardian, to defy those fascist rantings which were almost his religion, was the unforgivable thing.

‘Tell them,’ Celeste whispered.

‘I’m sorry. What?’ Blair asked.

‘Tell them. Tell someone,’ Celeste pleaded. ‘He didn’t kill her.’

Blair shook her head, as if she could not process the information all at once.

‘Please,’ Celeste whispered.

‘Yes. Yes, I understand,’ said Blair. ‘I will. Don’t worry. I will.’

Celeste sighed. Having rid herself of her terrible secret, she seemed to relax. Celeste’s eyes closed and her ragged breathing became shallow. Her grip on Blair’s fingers loosened and then her hand fell away.

‘Celeste,’ Blair whispered. ‘Can you hear me?’

Celeste seemed to be receding in front of her eyes. Blair stared at her sister’s waxy face, while her brain went into overdrive. My God, she thought. That man is in prison for a crime he didn’t commit and now I know it for a fact. I have to do something about this. Celeste, freed of her guilty burden, began to breathe more slowly, with greater difficulty. Blair watched her helplessly. Her head was pounding and she was overcome with the exhaustion of sitting beside that bed, waiting. How long had it been? Her heart felt as if it were being torn and twisted in her body as she watched her sister start to disappear. Although she did not feel the least bit tired, she lay her head down on the bed, near Celeste’s face. She could smell her sister’s breath, foul as a pit. She closed her eyes, just for a moment, against the pain.

The next thing she knew, someone was shaking her by the shoulder. She opened her eyes and looked up. Ellis, unshaven, stood beside the bed in his work pants and thermal undershirt, the boots on his feet unfastened. He was staring down at Celeste’s face.

Blair blinked at her uncle, frowning. She was halfway between sleep and waking, trying to take it in.

‘What?’ she mumbled.

‘It’s over,’ he said. ‘She’s gone.’


Can’t wait to read more? THE GIRL IN THE WOODS is available now in the UK and from 1 June in the US. Click here for more information.

SABOTAGE IN THE SECRET CITY: Behind the Book with Diane Fanning

fanningResearch chemist-sleuth Libby Clark must uncover the traitor within in this gripping World War II mystery.

May 1945. Harry S. Truman has become president, the Allied Forces are closing in on Berlin and the research scientists at the secret facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, are doing their bit to bring the war to as swift a conclusion as possible. But does the end justify the means? Libby Clark has mixed feelings about the horror she and her fellow scientists are labouring to unleash on the citizens of Japan  and it seems she’s not the only one to have doubts.

A campaign of small acts of sabotage convinces Libby that one of their number is deliberately trying to delay the mission. But when the pranks turn deadly, Libby is forced once again to turn undercover sleuth in order to unmask the traitor within, prevent further deaths and keep the focus on ending World War II.

Read this fascinating insight into Oak Ridge – the city that fueled the atomic bomb and the setting for Diane Fanning’s page-turning new Libby Clark World War II mystery, SABOTAGE IN THE SECRET CITY, coming 30 March in the UK and 1 July in the US.

In SCANDAL AND THE SECRET CITY, the first book in the Libby Clark series, Libby was hired to do war work as a government chemist and sent to a city that was not on any map.  When she arrived in 1943, it was known as Clinton Engineering works and she was just one of the 75,000 workers who populated the secret facility during World War Two.

This remote site on 60,000 acres of forest and farmland nestled at the foot of the Appalachian mountains in rural Tennessee was one of three cities created for the Manhattan Project under the direction of project director General Leslie Groves.  The original residents in all three areas were evacuated against their will to make room for the civilians tasked with producing an atomic bomb.

The vast majority of the workers did not know the purpose of their labors.  The chemists and physicists were informed that they were working with uranium and then told to never use the word again. Most did not know have a clue of their mission until August 6, 1945 when Little Boy, an atomic bomb, was dropped on Hiroshima.

During World War Two, the mothers of Oak Ridge had to have a remarkable amount of faith in the governing institutions at the facility where they lived. There were frequent drills for evacuation since they were living in a high-profile target area. When the alarm sounded, a mother grabbed any children in her home whether they were hers or not and drove straight to her assigned pick-up spot. Any of her kids at school, or at a neighbor’s house were someone else’s responsibility. At the rendezvous point, each mother loaded her car with whatever children were there. Until the drill was over, the whereabouts of her other kids were unknown to her.

The gates of the Clinton Engineering Works now renamed Oak Ridge opened to the public in 1949.  Today it is the location of two of the most advanced neutron science research centers in the world. Although ninety per cent of the original buildings are still in use, the ambiance of the tree-shaded town no longer bears any resemblance to the raw, pioneer atmosphere it possessed during the war.

SABOTAGE IN THE SECRET CITY continues the story of Libby Clark as she struggles with gender bias, the moral quandary resulting from her work and the age-old question of freedom versus security.

Want to know more about Diane Fanning and her titles? Click here.



THE GIRL IN THE WOODS: Five Facts about Patricia MacDonald

girl woods

Ever since her best friend Molly was murdered fifteen years before, Blair Butler has returned to her small hometown in the Pocono mountains as seldom as possible. Now she has been summoned home to see her terminally ill sister one last time – only for Celeste to make a shocking deathbed confession. Is it really true that the wrong man has spent fifteen years in jail for a crime he didn’t commit? Blair promised her dying sister that she would do her best to right the wrongs of the past, but is she prepared for the shocking truth . . .?


A deathbed confession has chilling consequences in this gripping novel of psychological suspense from Patricia MacDonald, and her five facts are just as intriguing! Who is her favourite author, and how did she end up sitting next to Prince Albert of Monaco at a glamorous dinner? Find out below. 

  1. I haven’t held a regular job for almost forty years. When I left the working world, I was the editor of three soap opera fan magazines, none of which still exist.  My boss at that time was the creator of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee, who has, to say the least, kept busy in the years since.
  2. I used to be a member of the Mystery Writers of America and did, in fact, meet my husband at the Edgar Awards some thirty-six years ago. Neither one of us has kept up our membership in the last twenty years or so.
  3. I have a library in my house, full of books which I intend to always keep. I have loved books since my earliest days, when my father would read to me the poetry and short stories of Edgar Allen Poe. My father has been dead now for fifty years, but I would give anything to hear, just once again, his Scotch-Irish baritone, reciting the tale of Annabel Lee, and her tomb by the sounding sea.
  4. My favorite author is Henry James, and my favorite mystery author is Ruth Rendell. These days I am very partial to Tana French as well. As you can see, I prefer authors who live on the other side of the pond!
  5. The most exciting thing to happen in my career was that I was asked to be President of the Monaco International Film Festival, because a number of my books have been made into movies in France. It was every bit as glamorous as it sounds. At a formal dinner in Monte Carlo, I was seated next to Prince Albert of Monaco, and he  was both charming and incredibly easy to talk with. I will dine out on that encounter for as long as I am still able to dine out!

Find out more about Patricia MacDonald and her books here.

Behind the Book: THE KILLING SITE by Caro Peacock

killing site

July, 1847. Now a happily married mother-of-two, Liberty Lane’s attendance at a London dinner party with her husband, Robert, ends in disaster when she is kidnapped from outside the smart London townhouse.

As Libby tries to formulate a plan of escape, her old friends, former street urchin Tabby and groom Amos Legge, desperately search for her. Convinced that somebody in the Maynard household, where the dinner party was held, knows something about Libby’s disappearance, Tabby keeps watch on the house – and makes a truly shocking discovery.

Can Liberty Lane escape from her kidnappers? This engrossing Victorian mystery has plenty of twists and turns. Set 170 years ago, when the current Houses of Parliament buildings were being constructed, the building site provides a fascinating backdrop to the mystery. Below, Caro explains how this inspired the story behind THE KILLING SITE.  

I used to work in the Houses of Parliament as a reporter, so the wonderful and ambitious work of the Victorian architect, Charles Barry, was the background to my daily life. Recently the buildings have attracted a lot of interest because they need serious repair. Work will go on for years and cost tens of millions. The Killing Site looks back 170 years to the time when the present parliament buildings were being constructed, amid as much controversy as now, with increasing delays and expense. After the old houses of Parliament burned down in 1834, it took more than twenty years to build the replacements, with complaints, rows and delays every step of the way. Charles Barry died before the work was completed. It struck me that the central character of my Victorian mystery novels, Liberty Lane, would have been familiar with the great building site by the Thames and the arguments swirling round it. From there, it was a short step to make it the centre of her next case.

Followers of Liberty will note that the present book leaps forward six years from her last case, Fool’s Gold, in which she’d just married Robert Carmichael. After the ups and downs of their courtship it seemed only fair to let them marry, but I did it with some regret, knowing that in the nineteenth century marriage was all too likely to end Liberty’s career as an independent investigator. In those six years they’ve had two children and, although she’s kept her skills sharpened with the occasional case, she’s been semi-retired. I needed something big to jolt her out of that, so I started the present book by having her kidnapped.

Want to read more about Caro and her titles? Click here.