Friday, June 21, 2013

John W. Huffman - Cold Hearts Burning is featured in the Mystery Reader's Circle

Author Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery & Thrillers

Website: John W. Huffman
Twitter: @johnwhuffman
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Author Description:

John W. Huffman was born in Hemphill, Texas, attended elementary school in Pineland, Texas, junior high and high school in Jasper, Texas, and graduated summa cum laude from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.

John enlisted in the Army Airborne in 1966 and served two tours of combat duty in Vietnam, the first as a private, and subsequently a sergeant, with Alpha Company, 1/27th Infantry, 25th Infantry Division, in 1966-67, and the second as an officer/aviator with the 120th Aviation Company in 1972-73. He retired as a major in 1986 with three Purple Hearts, three Bronze Stars, sixteen Air Medals, one Army Commendation Medal, two Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry Medals, and various other service and campaign ribbons.

Upon retiring from the Army, John launched a real estate sales and management company, SouthCorp Properties, Inc., which he still owns and operates today, and previously owned and operated seven NASCAR speedways in five states, created an automobile racing and sanctioning body, the American Racing Association, and developed three touring series.

John has received an honorable mention in the Writer's Journal for a short story contest, and published two short stories, The Reincarnate and The Mad Dash, along with his seven novels: A Wayward Wind, a Regional Finalists in the General Fiction category of the 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards; The Baron of Clayhill, a Finalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Awards Contest and a Finalists in the Popular Fiction category of the 2010 National Indie Excellence Book Awards; Tiger Woman, the First Place Winner in the Action-Adventure category of the 2010 Next Generation Indie Book Awards; Above All, a Finalists in the Action-Adventure category of the 2011 Next Generation Indie Book Awards; America's Diplomats, a First Place Winer in the Military Fiction category of the 2011 National Indie Excellence Awards, and recent releases Cold Hearts Burning and Searching For Leah.

John resides in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, with his wife Misty, and has three grown sons and three granddaughters.

Cold Hearts Burning

Author: John W. Huffman

Barnes and Noble

Cold Hearts Burning is an enduring tale of wit, romance, and intrigue revolving around a series of perplexing murders centered on youthful liaisons, which ultimately leads to a quixotic relationship as the past unravels into the present.

After a big-city police department drums Dean Davis off the force for committing a tragic error in judgment, he returns to his small hometown to ponder his uncertain future, only to encounter his troubled past. He finds that small towns hide their dark secrets well when a former first love charged with the murder of her current fiancé engulfs him in a baffling whodunit to prove her innocent of the crime.

Further besieged by another old flame from his freewheeling high school days, as well as his first love's younger sister, his dilemma quickly evolves into a comical misadventure that ultimately heals deep wounds distant and near as it exposes a heinous scandal in a convoluted paradox of twists and turns.


Behind every good man, there's of course, a GREAT woman, May 3, 2012 By J.R. "Jay" (Ansonia, CT)

It was an absolute joy to delve in the lives of Lisa Bryant and Dean Davis. The story is upbeat, the dialogue realistic and witty. It's impossible not to fall in love with Lisa and her perseverance in her quest to make Dean reach his potential. The setting is wonderfully depicted and it's easy to transpose each character with people we know from our own towns, wow!

As always, John Huffman lends his unique narrative voice that evokes every emotion as you turn each page. Wonderful read, I already miss Lisa, and that little black something… You'll have to pick it up and read it to find out and I'm sure, you'll agree with me.

Fun read! April 27, 2011 By Cpt Morgan
Huffman continues to amaze me with his diversity as an author and ability to spin a good yarn. I laughed throughout at the antics of Dean and Lisa, and thoroughly enjoyed the interplay between these two former lovers reunited around a rash of murders and mayhem in a small town. A truly delightful read and I recommend it to all.

Fast paced who-done-it…, March 4, 2011 By Billy (Ware Shoals, SC)
A light-hearted love story spun around a series of small town murders, this novel takes you on a crazy who-done-it chase with two former lovers. Funny characters, fast-paced action, and mystery will keep you turning the pages. Another John Huffman success that I highly recommend to all.
Murder and mayhem…, March 4, 2011 By School Leader "Educator" (Abbeville County SC)
When two old flames reconnect, mayhem mixes with murder in a hilarious misadventure. The antics of Dean and Lisa will keep you laughing as they pursue the clues and battle wits with a crusty sheriff, while investigating a murder that Dean's former lover is accused of committing. Dean and Lisa are challenged by their feelings for each other as they investigate the colorful list of suspects. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to all.

Mystery at its best! January 27, 2011 By Anna Sorensen (Columbia, SC)
Huffman has done it again! From the first page of this book, he keeps you turning. The plot twists and jumps through each chapter making you want to read on about the latest predicament into which Dean and Lisa have come across. A must read!


Lisa and Dean sat stiffly in front of Sheriff Parsons’ desk.

“If you didn’t violate the letter of our agreement, you sure as hell violated the spirit of it!” he bellowed.

“Technically, I guess you could say that, Sheriff, but I assure you it was never my intent,” Dean answered meekly. “You see, I thought—”

“You didn’t think, Davis! I ought to pull your license! And your associate’s license as well, damn it!”

“Partner,” Lisa corrected.

Sheriff Parsons slammed his hand down on his desk as she cowered. “Stay out of this, Miss Bryant, or I’ll call your father down here! You know better than to pull a stunt like this,

Davis! You were a police officer once. You know the goddamn rules of evidence!”

“At the time I wasn’t sure it was evidence, Sheriff. I was mainly concerned with protecting—”

“Shut up, Davis! If you had come to me in the first place when you broke into Kenny Felton’s goddamned house, I might have another suspect to deal with and your client might be free now! But noooooo, you have to play the Lone Ranger! I ought to lock you up for this!”

“Sheriff, I honestly thought—”

“I done told you that you didn’t think, so don’t contradict me again!” Sheriff Parsons bellowed. “You’re just damned lucky Mr. Felton refuses to file a complaint against you. I’d put you in the deepest, darkest hole of my jail I could find and throw away the key!”

“Sheriff, I’m really—”

“Save it, Davis! Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t suspend your license?”

“On what grounds?”

“Those damn telephone messages your client left lend even more credence to her being the murderer, yet you failed to notify my department, as you agreed you would do.”

“Why didn’t you get a warrant and search Felton’s house as part of your own investigation, Sheriff?” Dean argued. “If you had done so, you would have found this potential evidence yourself.”

He blanched. “There was no reason to search his home, goddamn it! We have the murderer and the motive!”

“You have what you think is the murderer and a conceivable motive.”

“Get the hell out of my office!” He waved his hand at the door. “I’m sick of looking at you, Davis!”

Dean and Lisa scurried out and didn’t slow down until they were in Lisa’s VW headed out of the parking lot.

“For goodness sakes, don’t speed or run a stop sign anytime soon,” Dean counseled as she gunned the engine and swerved out into the street.

“Gee, that was fun, Dean!”

“You’re the one who talked me into going to Mr. Felton instead of the sheriff!” he accused.

“He wasn’t yelling at me!” she countered. “He knew I didn’t know any better. You’re the former policeman who should have known better!”

“Oh, right, I see where this is heading. When the going gets tough—you get going! Now I see how things are in this partnership!”

“He was threatening to call my father!”

“He was threatening to lock my ass up and throw away the key!”

After a strained silence, she glanced at him sulking in the passenger seat. “So okay, what do we do now?”

“Leave town on the next train.”

“It’s your turn to cook.”

“What! How can you think about food at a time like this?”

“I’m hungry.”

“Well I ain’t by-god cooking tonight.”

“Okay, then you’ve got to treat. How does steak sound?”

“On my dime?”

“I bought lunch! If I’ve got to listen to you rant and rave, I’m going to do it on a full stomach at your expense.”

Dean crossed his arms. “Then make it some place that serves adult beverages. I’m in serious need of a double shot of something hard, and make it quick!”

The Baron of Clayhill

Author: John W. Huffman


A 2010 Finalist in the Popular Fiction category of the National Indie Excellence Book Awards.

From Publishers Weekly
Set in 1967 East Texas, this novel mixes a soupçon of the supernatural in with the mundane. Twenty-year old Paul Henry has just been released from the Army. Physically healed from the wounds he suffered in Viet Nam, he still suffers from deep psychic wounds and a radically changed outlook, his "enlistment bonus." Having gone through the classic lost-his-girl-to-his-best-friend scenario, estranged from family and friends and not knowing what he's going to do with the rest of his life, Paul decides to visit the grave of his father, a man he never knew.

Paul's father, John Allison Henry, supposedly committed suicide on the day his son was born. Paul's impulsive decision to find out more about his father sets him on a journey among strangers in a strange land, where he will find happiness and horror, love and hate, the power of determined effort, and the force of capricious fate.

The author does an excellent job of keeping you enthralled, making you hope all will be well, yet causing you to fear that all will come crashing down. Like a skilled poker player, this story keeps its cards close to its vest until all the bets are in, the hand is called, and boom! - the cards are laid on the table for all to see. After the emotions stirred up by the showdown abate, one thought is left - wow! Deal another hand!

We drove to the back of the cemetery, where we found two beat-up pickup trucks parked next to the old Henry plot and a dozen black people scattered about working.

I got out cautiously surveying the iron fence shining with a fresh coat of paint, the newly mowed grass dotted with flowers adorning each gravesite, and the bright marble tombstone standing on the end above my father’s grave. An old, weathered man removed his sweat-streaked, ragged straw hat and shuffled over as the others paused to stare at us.

“Mr. Henry, Suh, it be a pleasure to serve you and your family again. Indeed it do.”

I extended my hand. “My name is Paul. And you are …?”

The man wiped his sweaty palms on his pants before taking my hand. “I be Rufus Washington, Suh.” He turned to the others. “This be my wife, Agnes, who was the midwife to your mother, Mrs. Susan, when you was born. She be the one who bring you into this world.” He went on to introduce three of his grandchildren, Mr. and Mrs. Jacobs, their son and grandson, the Jefferson family, and one of their granddaughters.

I shook hands with each as they stepped forward to be introduced. “Mr. Washington, Mr. Farr said you volunteer to maintain the family plot. Why?”

Mr. Washington bowed his head. “Our families go all the way back to when your great-granddaddy first come to Texas, Suh. We worked in the Henry brickyard before the troubles came. We still live on Henry land ’cause your granddaddy provided for us in our lifetime, bless his soul. We sure be glad you come back home, Suh. Aunt Elsie said you come back someday. Said you be riding a powerful serpent. Said you bring truth and justice when you come. Said things gonna change around here when you come. We be mighty grateful to you for that, Suh.”

I looked at Hal in bewilderment, who stood off to the side with a huge grin plastered on his mug, and turned back to Rufus Washington. “Uh, you and the others have done a superb job on the family plot. I thank you for that and insist on paying you for your labors.”

Rufus shook his head. “It be our pleasure to serve the family, Suh. We don’t want no money for such. We grateful you done come home. We thanks you for that. We surely do.”

“Can I at least pay you for the flowers? They provide a nice touch.”

“Thank you kindly, Suh, but the flowers come from our yards. They our way of saying welcome home to you. Things gonna change around here now. Old Aunt Elsie said so. She got the magic eye.”

Hal winked at me as I stared at him, perplexed. “I feel awkward in the face of your generosity, Mr. Washington. I’m ashamed to admit that I know very little about my family.”

Rufus took my arm and led me to the line of headstones. “Come on, Suh. I be happy to introduce you to your ancestors.” He stopped before the first tombstone, which was also the largest. “This here be Master James Allison Henry, your great-granddaddy.”

I stared at the monument with the dates 14 April 1875–29 May 1945.

“He moved here to Clayhill from Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1895, when he was twenty years old. He be the one that hired my daddy to work for him in the brickyard he built.”

Hal stepped forward. “They say he was a right feisty old gentleman in his time, and there are some colorful stories told about him. It’s said he could be a hard man, but there’s also a lot he did for the local community, such as building the jail in Clayhill and a school for the black folks, among other things.”

Rufus moved to the next gravesite. “That be right, Mr. Henry. He be a hard but fair man. He married your great-grandmomma, Mrs. Rosemary here, in 1896, the same year he started the Henry brickyard. She be a fine lady in her time, with a kind, generous heart.”

Hal nodded. “The Higgins family owned thousands of acres of land in these parts.

Rosemary was their only child. Most of the early Henry wealth came from her.”

I looked at the dates on her tombstone, which read 4 December 1867–20 March 1900, and compared them to James Allison’s dates. “It appears my great-grandmother was older than my great-grandfather.”

Hal nodded. “Folklore says she waited a long time to marry. She was a beauty, or so they say. She was very wealthy and could have had the pick of any man in the county.

Old James Allison didn’t have a dime in his pocket when he got here, it’s been said. He must have been a real charmer to win her hand.”

Rufus moved to the next grave, which had a small tombstone on it reading Rose Marie Henry, 20 March 1900–3 April 1900. “Mrs. Rosemary passed on giving birth to little Rose Marie here, Suh. It was a breech birth and hard on both of them. My Momma do the best she could for them, but it not enough, I sorry to say.”

Rufus paused at the next gravesite beyond the baby Rose Marie. The tombstone read Robert Allison Henry, 10 July 1898–27 August 1946. “This be your granddaddy, Suh.”

Hal chuckled. “If the gossip is right, your great-grandfather was right colorful, but your grandfather was a pure rascal. He was a bootlegger during the thirties and forties.

Rumors still abound about all his money being buried somewhere around the old Henry homestead.”

“Why did he bury it?” I asked.

Hal shrugged. “Like most folks, he didn’t trust banks due to the recession of the thirties. The revenuers were keepin’ a close eye on him as well, so he couldn’t put the money in the bank even if he had trusted them. No one knows what happened to his stash of cash when he was killed. Some folks claim he was murdered over it. If you visit the old homestead, you’ll see holes in the ground everywhere. The new Henrys and just about everybody else in the county have dug the place up looking for it over the years.

Hell, I admit I dug a few of those holes myself as a kid. But nobody ever found any of his buried money. Or if they did, they damned sure didn’t tell anybody.” He grinned. “But come to think of it, I wouldn’t have told anybody if I’d of found it either. Most likely whoever killed him took it.”

Rufus stepped to the next grave, which read Olivia Jane Henry, 12 August 1899–9 February 1943. “This be your grandmomma; Mrs. Jane, she be called. She be a kind and God-fearing woman. She have two daughters as well as your daddy. They be Miss Alice Jane and Miss Rose Olivia.”

Hal shrugged. “I don’t know much about her. She was a Simms before she married Robert Allison. The Simms were hardworking but relatively poor people.

They’ve all died out or moved on now.”

“Where are the two daughters?”

Hal shoved his hands in his pockets and hunched his shoulders. “Nobody knows for sure. I heard a rumor that one of them was married and living in Tyler, but I don’t know that for a fact, or what her married name might be now if she is living there.

The other one supposedly moved to California. No one has ever heard any more from her. I do know that your grandfather remarried after your grandmother died. Your stepgrandmother, Cathie Fields, came from poor white trash and was considerably younger than your grandfather. They had one son named Jerry Calvin Henry, who was born after your grandfather died. She remarried J. R. Henry just before Jerry was born and later bore Bruce and Jimmy by J. R. before she died. She’s buried over in the new Henry plot that you’re having fixed up, though nobody can figure out why you’re doing it.”

“She’s family. Why wouldn’t I do it?”

“She was your stepgrandmother, Paul. She lost the whole family fortune to J. R. and his clan. She’s not well thought of around here, if the truth be known.”

Rufus stopped before my father’s new headstone. “Your daddy be a young man when he died. He be a fine man with high spirits.”

Hal snorted. “That’s putting it kindly. They say he was a pure hell raiser. He hated J. R. and your stepgrandmother. He was suing them when he died.”

“On what grounds?” I asked.

Hal shook his head. “Mr. Jackson can tell you all the legal crap. He’s been the Henry family lawyer all his life.”

“You didn’t bother to tell me he was my family’s lawyer when I was going to court,” I retorted. I looked at my watch. “Speaking of which, I guess we better get going.

I’m supposed to meet him in half an hour.” I turned to Rufus as the others gathered close behind him. “I’ve enjoyed meeting you and appreciate all you’ve done for my family over the years.”

Rufus shook my hand. “It good to have you home, Mr. Henry. We be waitin’ a long time for this day. Things gonna change around here now, old Aunt Elsie say.”

“Good day to all of you. Again, I appreciate all you’ve done for the family plot.”

Hal followed me back to the car, and the group stood watching as we drove off.

“Weird!” I groaned when I turned out of the cemetery back onto the road to Clayhill. “What the hell do you make of that? Who the hell is this Aunt Elsie with the magic eye? What kind of witchcraft is she spouting about me coming back riding on a serpent spewing out truth and justice? What bullshit!”

Hal arched his eyebrows. “She’s considered to be a great fortune-teller around these parts, Sport. Lots of folks seek her out. My own mother went to her more than once and swore by her.”

“Don’t tell me you believe in that crap! Even you aren’t that dumb.”

“Stop the car, Paul,” he commanded.

“Do what?”

“Pull over, damn it!” He walked around to the front of the car. “Come here, Paul.”

When I got out and went around to the front of the car, he pointed at the hood. “What do you see there?”

I looked at the car. “A car, Hal, what the hell am I supposed to see?”

He tapped the emblem with his finger. “What is that, dumb ass?”

I stared, stunned. “A … cobra …”

“Would you call that a serpent?”

Chills chased down my spine as I stood staring at the snake emblem. Hal got back into the passenger seat. I silently followed and drove us back to Clayhill.

Hal turned to me as I parked in front of the hardware store. “Freaky, ain’t it?”

I shrugged. “Coincidence; you have to admit it’s a rather broad interpretation of this Aunt Elsie’s vision or whatever.”

He sighed. “You Henrys are stubborn cusses. Let’s go see our lawyer.”

“Our lawyer?”
To view this author's complete Profile (HBS Author's Spotlight), CLICK HERE.

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Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Betty Webb - Desert Wind is featured in the HBS Mystery Reader's Circle

Betty Webb is in the HBS Mystery Book Reader's Circle.

Author Genre: Mystery & Thrillers

Website: Betty Webb - The Lena Jones mysteries
Author's Blog: Webb's Blog
Blog: Wikipedia
Twitter: @bettywebb
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Author Description:
Betty Webb is the author of the nationally best-selling Lena Jones mystery series (DESERT WIND, DESERT WIVES, DESERT NOIR, etc.) and the humorous Gunn Zoo mysteries (THE LLAMA OF DEATH, THE KOALA OF DEATH, etc.). Before beginning to write full time, Betty worked as a journalist, interviewing everyone from U.S. presidents, astronauts who walked on the moon, Nobel Prize-winners, and polygamy runaways. She has taught creative writing at Phoenix College, master classes at Arizona State University, and has been a nationally-syndicated literary critic for more than 20 years. Betty is a member of the National Federation of Press Women, Mystery Writers of America, and Sisters in Crime.

Desert Wind

A Lena Jones Mystery

Author: Betty Webb

Barnes and Noble

An old wrangler holds the key to hundreds of deaths in secretive Walapai Flats, Arizona, but the only person he’ll confide in is the ghost of John Wayne.

When P.I. Lena Jones's Pima Indian partner Jimmy Sisiwan is arrested in the remote northern Arizona town of Walapai Flats, Lena closes the Desert Investigations office and rushes to his aid. What she finds is a town up in arms over a new uranium mine located only ten miles from the magnificent Grand Canyon. Jimmy's sister-in-law, founder of Victims of Uranium Mining, has been murdered, but the opposing side is taken hits, too. Ike Donohue, the mine's public relations flak, is found shot to death, casting suspicion on Jimmy and his entire family. During Lena's investigation, she finds not only a community decimated by dangerous mining practices, but a connection to actor John Wayne and the mysterious deaths resulting from the 1953 filming of “The Conqueror.” Gabe Boone, a wrangler on that doomed film, is still alive, but the only person the aged man will confide in is John Wayne's ghost. It's up to Lena to penetrate Gabe's defenses and find out the decades-old tragedy no one in Walapai Flats wants to talk about. By delving into the area's history, Lena learns that old sins never die; they're still taking lives.

As with “Desert Wives: Polygamy Can Be Murder,” this seventh book in the Lena Jones series exposes real life crimes, and the reason why high-ranking government officials want those crimes to remain under wraps.

PUBLISHERS WEEKLY STARRED REVIEW : “Webb pulls no punches in exploring another human rights issue in her excellent seventh mystery starring Arizona PI Lena Jones (after 2009’s Desert Lost)."

From David Morrell, New York Times bestselling author of The Protector and the Rambo (First Blood) series: "I've been a fan of Betty Webb's Desert mysteries from the start. With some series, the quality ebbs over time, but Webb's latest, Desert Wind, shows ever-increasing strength. Again Webb uses her expert journalistic skills to explore a shocking topic that private investigator Lena Jones uncovers with masterly resolve. My jaw dropped as I realized the scope and significance of the mystery. Add awesome descriptions of the Southwestern landscape along with powerful emotions, and you have a must-read."

From Roundup Magazine, Western Writers of America: “Betty Webb is a tremendous writer… Ms. Webb has not only entertained with rousing good mystery stories and terrific characters, but educated by taking on the homeless, the dying, and polygamy."


August 1954: Snow Canyon, Utah

From his vantage point with the horses on a small hillock, Gabe Boone watched the cameras track the actor across the simmering desert floor towards the skin-draped yurt. Even with the heavy makeup around the man's eyes, no one would have mistaken him for Genghis Khan. His height, his build, his long-legged stride -- they could only have belonged to one man: John Wayne.

"He sure is something to see, ain't he?" drawled Curly, another wrangler on the film set.

They'd been standing there holding the horses' reins going on two hours now. Curly was twice Gabe's age, but because of a life spent mainly on ranches and in too many bars, he looked sixty. His face has been burned saddle-brown by the sun and wind, his tobacco-stained teeth almost the same color.

Gabe, only twenty-two and a non-drinker, non-chewer, flashed pearly whites. "He is that. But he don't look like no Mongol."

"Seen a lot of Mongols, whatever those be?"

Gabe walked over to a big bay, straightened its saddle, and tried to look knowing. "Cowboys like us is what they are, from somewhere out in China."

"Commies." Curly spit a disdainful wad of tobacco on the ground, barely missing his own boot.

Gabe sighed. There Curly went again, seeing a Commie behind every rock and cactus. You'd think he was the one who'd left Korea minus a finger. Gabe stared down at the stump where his left forefinger had been. Curly could rave on, but as for himself, after what he'd been through over there, he didn't want to think about war, politics, or what-have-you, didn't want to think about anything except settling down and raising a family.

Curly wasn't through griping. "Damned Commies, them Chinese, them Ruskies and all their stinking friends, think they can come over here and take away our horses and saddles and make us call 'em Comrade. Well, we got a big ol' answer for them, don't we?"

Gabe didn't want to think about that, either. The A-bomb testing, the McCarthy hearings going on in Washington... He especially didn't want to think about all those sick Paiute Indian film extras. Coughs. Blisters. Maybe that was because they ate the rabbits and ground squirrels that had been eating the sick grass. Used to hunt the antelope, the Indians did, brought down deer and elk. But lately, the larger animals had been dying off, covered with sores all over their bodies. Sometimes their coats and muzzles looked so scary the Paiutes wouldn't touch them, made do with whatever they could forage. Desert plants, pine nuts, spindly stuff that would hardly keep a chicken alive.

This canyon country was a hard country. Men and horses had to be hard to endure it.

Gabe turned his eyes to the film set, where Wayne was swaggering toward Susan Hayward, his hands on the huge knife at his waist. The cameras, one of them mounted on a small metal track, moved back as he approached her.

The scalding wind blowing down the canyon towards Gabe and Curly, lifted the actor's words to them. "What Temujin wants, he takes, Bortai!"

The beautiful redhead clutched her skimpy costume close to her breasts. Defiance lit her eyes. "No dog of a Mongol..."

She began to cough.

The Llama of Death

A Gunn Zoo Mystery

Author: Betty Webb

Barnes and Noble

Zookeeper Theodora “Teddy” Bentley takes Alejandro, the Gunn Zoo llama, to a Monterey Bay-area Renaissance Faire only to discover the still-warm body of the Reverend Victor Emerson, owner of the local wedding chapel, dressed in his royal robes as Henry the Eighth.

At first it appears as if Alejandro stomped the man to death, but a closer look reveals a crossbow dart in the man’s back. Teddy’s investigation proves the “reverend” isn’t really a reverend at all — he’s an escaped convict, and every marriage he’s performed in the past twenty years is null and void. Teddy’s mother Caro, a spoiled ex-beauty queen, becomes the chief suspect and is immediately jailed when she causes a riot in the courtroom. The ”reverend” had twice married Caro to wealthy men, and when both marriages failed, Caro received large financial settlements. Now she may have to give all that money back, certainly a good enough reason to commit murder. But Caro wasn’t the only person gunning for Victor. The child of the man Victor once murdered may have wanted to kill him, too, and at one point, even Teddy herself is handcuffed and jailed. Even worse, Teddy’s embezzling father flies in from exile in Costa Rica to help spring Caro from jail, thus putting his own freedom in jeopardy.

As Teddy continues her investigation, she finds herself up to her ears in girl gang members, squabbling boat liveaboarders, Renaissance Faire actors and stuntmen, and assorted animals.

Written with a humorous touch, “The Llama of Death” portrays Renaissance Faire life, and gives the reader a rare behind-the-scenes look at modern zoos.

“Alejandro, you spit in my face!”

He didn’t answer, just glared.

I tried reasoning with him, keeping my voice steady while I wiped the spittle away. “Look, I know you’re unhappy, but I’m unhappy, too. After all we’ve been through together there’s no reason for you to treat me like this.”

I ducked before he let fly again.

There’s nothing more irritating than an irritated llama, but there’s also nothing faster than a ducking zookeeper, so Alejandro’s second spitball missed the top of my head by at least an inch. “Losing your touch, big fella?” Straightening up, I saw that the expression of disgust on his face had morphed into one of pure sweetness. What...?

“I only weigh thirty-five pounds, so can I have a ride?” piped a tiny voice.

By the gate stood a tow-headed child who barely reached my waist. “Llama rides costeth two yellow tickets, my lady,” I said, my tongue cramping as it curled around the sixteenthcentury phraseology the organizers of the Gunn Landing Renaissance Faire insisted upon. “Plus you musteth have your kind lady mother’s permission.” Musteth? Was that even a word?

The little girl’s mother, who’d missed the llama spit-fest, smiled. “The jousting knights scared her, so I thought a llama ride would be more her speed. Llamas are calming, so I’ve heard.”

Alejandro’s ears, formerly laid back on his head, pricked forward. If I hadn’t known better, I’d swear he was smiling.

Llamas play favorites. Alejandro adored children, but he wasn’t crazy about adults, especially adults wearing outfits as ridiculous as mine. Billowing pink cotton skirt with too much lace and too many flounces, a plunging neckline that barely missed being X-rated, and a steelribbed bodice that would probably turn my face blue long before the day was over. And that net thingy the seamstress had called a “snood”? The only thing good about the contraption was that it kept my corkscrew red hair out of my eyes. Earlier this morning, after taking one look at me in my borrowed outfit, the seamstress – Maid Lucinda, she called herself -- said, “Guess that will have to do.” Then she’d turned her face away, but not before I heard her snicker.

So here I was, dressed up like some deranged sixteenth-century tart, working as a llama wrangler on the opening day of the Gunn Landing Renaissance Faire, when I should have been a mile away up the hill, tending to my usual rounds at the Gunn Zoo. I missed my friends: Lucy the giant anteater and her baby, Ricky; Wanchu the koala; even Marcus Aurelius, the mischievous lemur. Disgusted by my fate, I would have sworn a blue streak, but I couldn’t remember the proper curses. Zounds? Forsooth? Earlier, I’d heard one of the knights – Sir Roland, I believe, although it was hard to tell under all that armor – snarl something pithy about a spotted toad wed to a warted hog, but the rest of his insult escaped me.

Trying to look as delighted as Alejandro now did, I smiled at the innocent little face looking up at me. “The llama’s name is Sir Alejandro, my lady. If you’re nice to him, he’ll be nice to you. Uh, zounds.”

She reached up a tiny hand and patted him on the nose.

Alejandro closed his eyes and hummed with pleasure.

“He’s purring!” the child exclaimed.

“Most llamas make that sound when they’re anxious, but he’s different. He only makes it when he’s happy, my lady. It doth appear you have truly stolen Sir Alejandro’s heart. Forsooth and all that.”

She beamed from ear to ear.

“Up you go, my lady.” I heaved her onto Alejandro’s saddle.

As soon as she settled in, we set off around the barnyard. Alejandro continued to hum contentedly while I silently cursed my boss, Aster Edwina Gunn. Thanks to the old tyrant, I was up to my ankles in llama droppings, sweating like one of the Queen’s royal swine in the hot California sun. Not to mention ducking spit.
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