I am thrilled to announce The Brass Compass has won first place for the Speak Up and Talk Firebird Awards, in the Action/Adventure genre. While I’m honored to be an award winner, I submitted The Brass Compass because I value how Speak Up and Talk radio utlize the entry fees for the award.
All entry donations for the Firebird Awards help help fund Enchanted Makeovers 501(c)3 women and children’s long term shelters. The Firebird Award donation funds an ongoing pillowcase project where handmade one of a kind pillowcases, colorful totes, superhero capes, and more are sent to Enchanted Makeovers – a 501(c)(3). Each and every gift is made by hand. Entry into the Firebird book awards enables Speak Up and Talk Radio to send fun pillowcases and cheery hand sewn items to shelters around the country as a way to make someone’s life just a little bit brighter.
2. Karina’s Sister.
5. One of the J squared crew.
6. Diamonds & Deception: _____ Manon, Jillian’s teacher friend.
10. Karina’s kookie older neighbor.
11. Fellow lobbyist from Fatal Legislation.
12. How many phones does Karina carry in Swindler’s Revenge?
13. Where is the death mask from in Pharaoh’s Forgery?
1. Name the security company Karina turns to in a bind.
3. Name of the stolen painting in Isabella’s Painting.
4. The super hero moniker Karina gives Rick.
7. Where do Karina’s parents live?
8. The Senator who dies at Karina’s feet.
9. Pharoah’s Forgery: _______ the crap weasel.
In Butler’s engrossing fifth mystery featuring Washington, D.C., lobbyist Karina Cardinal (after 2020’s Pharaoh’s Forgery), Karina has ended her romantic relationship with FBI cybercrimes division special agent Mike Finnegan, but she gets involved with him again after her apartment is raided by an FBI team searching for him. The lead agent, Gerald Newcomb, who has a warrant authorizing a search of Karina’s home, explains that Mike is suspected of stealing over $1 million. Karina later learns a man calling himself Mike Finnegan and matching her ex-boyfriend’s description opened a new account at Mike’s bank. That same day, $1.2 million was transferred into the account from the Cayman Islands, and the next day, when Mike called in sick, the man who opened the bank account withdrew that entire amount, a suspicious transaction flagged by the IRS. With Mike’s current whereabouts unknown and indications that Newcomb has an axe to grind against him, Karina determines to help her former lover. Butler keeps the plot barreling ahead. Fans of intelligent escapism will look forward to more.
The knock, or I should say pounding, on my door startled me out of the rainy Saturday morning HGTV home renovation coma I’d slipped into. The clock read half past ten, and I realized I’d been watching back-to-back shows for over three hours. I picked up my coffee to finish it, but the half inch at the bottom of the mug had gone cold and skimmed over.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
I clicked off the show. “I’m coming! Keep your pants on!”
The knocking likely came from one of my fellow condo neighbors. Winding my auburn hair into a bun and tightening the knot on my chenille robe, I shuffled to the foyer.
“Who is it?” I asked, peeking through the peephole.
The man on the other side wore a long overcoat opened to reveal a barrel chest in a dark suit, white shirt, and striped tie. He had gray-brown hair and a bulbous nose. Not a neighbor.
“If you’re peddling your religion, you can move along. I’m quite happy with my own beliefs. Thank you!” I hollered.
“FBI. Open the door, Ms. Cardinal. I have a warrant to search the premises.” He held his badge in front of the peephole. It read “Gerald Newcomb”.
Warrant? I turned off the security system, unlocked the deadbolt and the floor bolt, and pulled it open. “May I see the warrant, please?”
The agent, a little shorter than my five-foot-nine height, invaded my personal space as he laid the piece of paper onto my open palm. “We’re looking for Michael Finnegan.”
“Mike?” I glanced over the sheet. “Your information is out-of-date. We broke up a few months ago, but feel free to search away.” I pulled the door wide, and two other agents wearing Men’s Warehouse suits followed Newcomb into my tiny foyer. The first guy was in his late twenties, with freckles and reddish blond hair. I held out a hand to stop him. “Your ID, please.”
“He’s with me,” Newcomb snapped.
My mouth flattened and I delivered him a side-eye. “It wasn’t a request. Identification, please.”
“Brandon Keller, IRS, fraud division.” The freckled fellow held out his card.
The olive-skinned, black-haired man following Agent Keller held up his badge as he entered, but he needn’t have. I recognized Amir from the last time he’d been in my home more than a year ago. “What?” I mouthed. Ever so slightly, Amir shook his head. Something slammed in my kitchen. Newcomb and Keller had already begun their search of my two bedroom, two bath condo. Abandoning Amir, my fluffy pink slippers and I shambled over to investigate.
My kitchen was U-shaped with an island in the center. Newcomb opened and closed each cabinet, needlessly slamming them shut with a bang. However, he had no such luck with the soft-close drawers that were put in when I updated my fifty-year-old condo a few years ago.
“Wow, it’s ten thirty on a Saturday. Judge-let’s see . . .” I scanned the paper in my hand. “Here it is-Judge Robinson must really love you.”
The agent didn’t respond and started with the lower cabinets along the back wall.
I leaned against the island and drawled, “Mike is six foot tall and a solid 185 pounds. Do you really think he’s going to fit in the cabinetry?”
“Please stand back, Ms. Cardinal, and let us do our job,” Newcomb stated.
Crossing my arms, I moved aside to allow him to check out the island cabinet behind me. “I’m telling you-you’re barking up the wrong tree. We broke up over two months ago.” My volley didn’t receive a response. “Agent Newcomb, what division of the FBI did you say you worked in?”
“White Collar,” Newcomb replied in a clipped tone as he pulled open the cabinets beneath the sink.
White Collar? Hm, did I just fall down a rabbit hole with Alice? Mike worked in the Cybercrime division.
Newcomb opened the tiny microwave above my stove, and I rolled my eyes.
“You know, Mike once told me that they found an entire safe inside the dishwasher. Maybe I’ve stuffed him in there.” I pulled it open and whipped out the racks. Dirty dishes rattled and clanked. Newcomb jerked upright, putting a hand to his hip in an action I’d seen from Mike. Amir hustled in from the other room.
“Nope, not in there. Don’t forget to check the fridge. Oh, and there’s a washer and dryer in the pantry.” I pointed. “Maybe he’s hiding in there.”
Newcomb was not amused. “Ms. Cardinal, I can arrest you for interfering in an investigation, or you can go sit down and wait until we’re finished,” he said in a menacing voice.
“Interfering? Why, darlin’, I’m just tryin’ to help,” I explained in my sweetest southern debutant accent.
Amir cleared his throat and caught my eye. His silent message was clear: “Don’t.”
“Okay, fine.” I threw up my hands. “I’ll leave you to it. Let’s see what the tax man is up to.”
I discovered that Keller had moved from the living room on to my bedroom, and he was searching my dresser drawers.
“Is fingering my lingerie part of the warrant, Mr. Keller?”
His freckled face bloomed like the red tide.
“Then I suggest you get your mitts out of my panty drawers and check places where an adult male might hide. Under the bed, closet, bathroom. You get the picture,” I snapped.
He slammed the drawer shut.
“Leave my shoeboxes alone, too. He’s not hiding in them, either!” I delivered the parting shot and strolled across the living room and down the hall to my guest room, where I found Amir searching the walk-in closet.
“Amir,” I whispered, “what the hell is going on? Is Mike in trouble? What are you doing with White Collar? I thought you worked in Cybercrime.”
Amir put a finger to his lips to shush me. “Ms. Cardinal, I believe Agent Newcomb asked you to take a seat while we finish the search,” he said in a normal tone. Then he took my hand and placed a tiny, folded piece of paper in my palm.
Shoving the paper deep into my robe pocket, I harrumphed, “Fine. I’ll go wait in the living room.” I stomped to the living room, plopped down onto the sofa, and flicked the TV back on to the home renovation show.
A few minutes later, Newcomb came into the living room. I turned up the volume.
Keller also joined us in the living room. “The bedroom is clean.”
“Did you check under the dining table?” I snarked, then caught Newcomb staring at the sofa. “Oh, for the love of Pete!” I muted my show, stood, and picked up the cushions one at a time. “He is not in my velvet couch. And if he did dare to try and crawl in there, you would be the least of his worries!”
Newcomb didn’t seem convinced and continued to stare.
“What? Do you need to check behind the couch?” I yanked the armrest and it moved about six inches.
Keller trotted over to give the backside a gander. He pulled it out farther and shook his head. “Nothing back here.”
Shoving my favorite piece of furniture back in place, I collapsed down and put my fluffy feet on the coffee table.
Newcomb pulled up the safety bar and unlocked the slider.
I sighed as he spotted the door on the far-right side of the deck. “You’ll need the key for the utility closet.”
“Please open the closet, Ms. Cardinal,” Newcomb requested in a very nice way.
Amir joined us in the living room. “All clear in the guest bedroom and bath.”
“Agent Amir, would you please retrieve my car keys from the glass bowl by the front door?” I asked sweetly, copying Newcomb’s tone.
When Amir returned, Newcomb indicated I should open the door for them. Instead, I plucked out the key to the closet and held it between two fingers. “I prefer to keep my distance from the creepy closet. Last fall, a copperhead slithered in there while I was replacing the furnace filter. I locked that sucker tight and haven’t been in since.” I wiggled the key. “It’s all you.”
With interest, Newcomb took the key. All three men piled onto my tiny deck, standing tense and at the ready, as if waiting for Mike to jump out of the closet like a jack-in-the-box.
“Be careful. That deck gets slippery when wet!” I hollered from the comfort of my couch. I considered shouting “boo!” when they opened the door, but I decided I might get shot.
The agents were doomed to disappointment. The door swung open, revealing my furnace and rusted water heater. Newcomb said something to Keller. The poor guy pulled a small flashlight out and dove into the depths of the three-by-five-foot snake- and spider-infested room. I hated that closet and shivered in disgust just watching him. He returned dusty and holding a dried-up snake carcass.
Jumping to my feet, I cried, “See! I told you there was a copperhead.”
“Ma’am, it’s just a rat snake. They’re good snakes. They eat rodents and vermin.”
“There is no such thing as a good snake if it’s in my home,” I replied to Keller’s misconceptions. “There’s a dumpster out back where you can dispose of it, please.” I added the please in a particularly wheedling tone, because there was no way I wanted that snake to be dropped in my kitchen trash.
I guess the show was over, because after closing and locking the closet, Keller and Amir filed through my apartment and out the front door.
Newcomb returned my keys. “Your boyfriend-”
“Ex-boyfriend,” I clarified.
“-is in big trouble. He’s wanted for questioning. If he contacts you, please give me a call.” He passed me his business card.
Following Newcomb to the door, I said, “Pardon me, but I’m having a difficult time believing my Boy Scout ex did anything illegal. What exactly is he accused of?”
No one responded.
Newcomb paused, with his hand on the halfway closed door. “It seems he’s scarpered off with one point two million dollars. We need to find out why.” The agent shut the door in my mouth-bobbing shocked face.
Exciting news! All of the Karina Cardinal mysteries are now going to be available on the new Scream app. Scream curates a list of the best voices in speculative and suspense fiction, delivering on chills & thrills. Isabella’s Painting will be the first one released with the rest of the series to soon follow reaching new readers, and providing all readers another place to obtain the series. The app is free to download onto your phone, tablet, or computer. All books on Scream have a free preview, if you like it, you can purchase the rest of the novel. If you don’t move on and find that page-turner that will make you scream! You can find the app through Google PlayStore, or the Apple app store – Scream by Crazy Maple Studios.
For those who have read Isabella’s Painting, you know that I incorporated the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum heist, one of the world’s largest art heists in history, into the novel. A number of readers have been asking me about the new documentary, This Is a Robbery on Netflix.
First, yes, I have watched the miniseries. Second, from my own research done in 2016-2017, sadly, there is nothing new introduced into the documentary that I had not already discovered during my own research. Much of the material was available through old Boston Globe and other newspaper articles, previous documentaries, and material found on the FBI website or Gardner site. That being said, this documentary has done an excellent job coalescing the information and presenting it to the viewer in both an entertaining and interesting manner. The documentary focuses on the mafia connection theories. I suspect, one of the reasons the Gardner Museum was so helpful to the documentarians, was in hopes that it will shed new light on the case, and someone who knows or has seen the art will come forward. With a $10 million reward on the line, it’s possible this new documentary will encourage just that.
One possible suspect the documentary focuses on during the second episode is Richard Abath, the guard who buzzed the robbers into the building the night of the heist. During my own research, I was able to interview retired FBI agent, Robert Wittman, who worked the Art Crimes division over the years of the Gardner investigation. When I asked him why Richard Abath was never arrested, he told me Abath had undergone numerous polygraph tests, over years, and the results were either negative or inconclusive. They could not link Abath to the stolen artwork, even though the security system recorded Abath as the last person to enter the Blue Room, from where the painting Chez Tortoni was taken.
I imagine if any of the artwork is ever found it will only be pieces of it. At that time, artwork could have flowed easily and quickly out of the country. If it still exists, it is likely spread throughout the world. However, there is always hope the paintings will turn up, like the over 1200 Nazi looted artworks found in Cornelius Gurlitt’s apartment, 70 years after the war ended. Perhaps a grand daughter of a dead mafia capo will stumble across a storage locker, or hidden room filled with paintings. After all, stranger things have happened.
MARCH 26, 2021-For the end of my Women in History series, I look to a woman who is considered the best-selling fiction writer of all time, Agatha Christie. Guinness World Records lists Christie as having sold more than 2 billion books worldwide. My first introduction to Agatha Christie was not one of her books, but rather a movie that I happened to stumble upon while channel surfing. It was the 1965 version of Ten Little Indians. When I realized the movie was based on Christie’s book, And Then There Were None, I borrowed it from the library and was soon caught up in the midst of an exciting ride.
Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born in Torquay, Devon in Southwest England, in September 1890. Her childhood education was erratic. At the age of 5 she taught herself to read. Her father homeschooled Christie until he fell too ill, then she spent time at a day school where she struggled with the discipline and strict schedules. A talented pianist, at the age of 15 her mother sent her to school in Paris to study piano and opera singing. However, two years later Christie determined she lacked the talent to become a concert pianist or opera singer; she ended her education and returned home. In 1912 she met Archibald Christie, and they were married in 1913. After WWI broke out, Christie trained and qualified to work as an assistant at a dispensary. Her new education in pharmacology and poisons helped develop her debut novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, where the world was introduced to Hercule Poirot. Christie bore only one child, Rosalind. Eventually her marriage to Archibald fell apart and they divorced in 1928. In 1930, Christie met archeologist, Max Mallowen, whom she married later that year. They remained married until her death in 1976. Throughout her lifetime, Christie wrote 75 novels-66 of them detective novels-and 14 short story collections.
Christie enjoyed travel and her train trip on the Orient Express in 1928 led to my favorite novel of hers, Murder on the Orient Express, another tricky case unraveled by detective Hercule Poirot. One of the things I enjoy about reading Christie is her heavy reliance on dialog to develop the plot and set up the murderer. There are times in Christie’s novel when the reader might find the pacing a bit slow, however if you skim over these points, you are likely to miss an important clue that will help lead you to the perpetrator. I admit that my own novels have very little resemblance to Christie’s style. While her story lines are quite methodical and deliberate puzzles to solve, my own mysteries are rather fly-by-the-seat-of-her-pants style with a good bit of action, adventure, and dumb luck for my heroine, who is not a trained detective. However, I do try to use dialog to a similar advantage that Christie used hers, by explaining plot points and dropping clues.
One thing is for sure, Christie’s influence on the detective mystery genre cannot be overstated. She is credited with establishing the modern “murder mystery” rules. Christie enticed readers by trapping all of her suspects in one location-e.g., on a train, ship, or mansion-rather than running helter-skelter around town interrogating suspects. By bringing her colorful characters to a central location, and giving them all reasons for being the murderer, her detective slowly solves the puzzle and narrows the list until the murder is revealed. Even though the reader is not taken to a variety of locations, Christie’s dialog, scenes, and character development keep us captivated and willing to spend the entire book in that single location. Her mysteries were smart, clever, and suspenseful, and they still remain popular today.