Friday, November 20, 2020

Guest Post, Excerpt & Giveaway ~ JAMIE QUINN MYSTERY COLLECTION: BOX SET BOOKS 1-3 by Barbara Venkataraman

Jamie Quinn Mystery Collection: Box Set Books 1-3
by: Barbara Venkataraman
Series: Jamie Quinn
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Release Date: September 2, 2014
Amazon | Paperback | Goodreads

Death by Didgeridoo - Winner of the Indie Book of the Day award. Reluctant lawyer, Jamie Quinn, still reeling from the death of her mother, is pulled into a game of deception, jealousy, and vengeance when her cousin, Adam, is wrongfully accused of murder. It's up to Jamie to find the real murderer before it's too late. It doesn't help that the victim is a former rock star with more enemies than friends, or that Adam confessed to a murder he didn't commit.

The Case of the Killer Divorce - Reluctant lawyer, Jamie Quinn, has returned to her family law practice after a hiatus due to the death of her mother. It's business as usual until a bitter divorce case turns into a murder investigation, and Jamie's client becomes the prime suspect. When she can't untangle truth from lies, Jamie enlists the help of Duke Broussard, her favorite private investigator, to try to clear her client's name. And she’s hoping that, in his spare time, he can help her find her long-lost father.

Peril in the Park - There's big trouble in the park system. Someone is making life difficult for Jamie Quinn's boyfriend, Kip Simons, the new director of Broward County parks. Was it the angry supervisor passed over for promotion? The disgruntled employee Kip recently fired? Or someone with a bigger ax to grind? If Jamie can't figure it out soon, she may be looking for a new boyfriend because there’s a dead guy in the park and Kip has gone missing! With the help of her favorite P.I., Duke Broussard, Jamie must race the clock to find Kip before it’s too late.

A preview of the next Jamie Quinn Mystery, Engaged in Danger, can be found at the end of the book.


NOTHING TO SNEEZE ABOUT

Remember the last time you sneezed? There was that little itch that sent your nose into high alert. This could be the big one, you think, a real head-bobber, or it could be a tiny little nothing sneeze. Or it could be a false alarm. You just never know what to expect. There's the build-up, then the sneeze and, finally, the feeling of relief. And then it's over, or at least you hope so. I always sneeze three times in a row, but that's just my thing, a little author trivia.

So, how is a sneeze like reading a mystery? Well, I'm glad you asked. Like a sneeze, the plot of a mystery starts out slowly, the tension gradually builds while the reader wonders, is something about to happen? Is this a clue? Is this a major plot development? Or is it a fake-out? For every build-up of tension in a mystery, there must be a release afterwards, a resolution to the problem and then a period of low-tension. In most books, this pattern will happen many times before the final resolution (the big sneeze!) which signals the end of the story.

Without conflict, there is no story, of course, so the writer wants to keep putting the characters in dangerous or stressful situations. A good writer keeps the reader on edge by dangling the prize in front of the protagonist and then snatching it away at the last minute, or by throwing roadblocks in the way. The author has to be subtle about it, so the obstacles vary constantly. Maybe the protagonist loses faith in herself, or is physically detained. Maybe someone she cares about has a crisis and she has to stop what she's doing to offer help. Or maybe she's sent on a wild goose chase or follows the wrong lead. She may wind up in physical danger, or some other kind of trouble.

Here's an example of a best-selling mystery plot. The novel begins with the murder of a beautiful prosecutor in her apartment. The protagonist, also a prosecutor, was her co-worker, and is assigned the case. Nobody knows that the victim was the protagonist's former lover (raising the stakes). The protagonist's boss is up for re-election and the murder of one of his people is embarrassing. If he loses the election, the protagonist loses his job (raising the stakes some more). The election is lost and suddenly the protagonist finds himself accused of the murder. There's lots of evidence to implicate him: calls made from his home to hers the night of the murder, a glass with his fingerprints on it, carpet fibers, etc. The courtroom drama raises the tension even further; taking many turns along the way. But the expert testimony proves unreliable. The protagonist learns the judge had a relationship with the victim and also that the judge, the victim and his former boss all took bribes from suspects. A crucial piece of evidence for the prosecution disappears and the judge dismisses the case for lack of evidence.

But the reader still doesn't know who killed the prosecutor! Was it the protagonist? He's the narrator, but is he reliable? Yes, he is, and he figures out who murdered his former lover…dun dun dun! It was his angry, betrayed wife who tried to frame him. Recognize the plot? It's Presumed Innocent by Scott Turow.

The challenge for the mystery writer is how to build the tension to a crescendo and timing is everything. Think about that horror movie trick where the girl (and the audience) is terrified because we know something bad is about to happen. We're on the edge of our seats, our hearts are racing, and, suddenly, a something scary jump out at the girl--and it's just a cat. Everyone lets down their guard, shakes off the nervous tension and--WHAM--the bad guy/monster/psycho/alien then attacks the girl. That twist worked great the first time we saw it, but now we've come to expect it.

In my Jamie Quinn mystery series, Jamie is a reluctant family lawyer who keeps finding herself involved in murder cases. In Death by Didgeridoo, her disabled cousin is accused of murdering his music teacher; in The Case of the Killer Divorce, Jamie's client is accused of murdering her husband, and in Peril in the Park, Jamie and her boyfriend are in danger from an evil jester who has already murdered one person. The tension rises and falls in each book while Jamie tries to figure out what's really going on, while, at the same time, there are mysteries to solve in her personal life. Because these books are part of a series, the tension isn't completely resolved at the end of each book. Certain story lines continue through to the next book and, in fact, each book ends with the first chapter of the next book as a teaser.

Now I think you understand how a good mystery can be just like a sneeze. And who doesn't like a good sneeze? It can be energizing and unexpected. But, at all costs, you want to avoid books which don't have tension; the kind that go on and on, that ones you wish would hurry up and end already. They are like having the hiccups and nobody wants those!

Death by Didgeridoo ~ Excerpt

Chapter 1


I don't know why I feel guilty, it's not like I killed the guy. I didn't even know him, but I heard he was a real bastard. Let me put it this way, when word got out that Spike was dead, that he'd been murdered with one of his own musical instruments, celebrations broke out all over town. Some people toasted his demise with expensive champagne, while others clinked bottles of cold beer; it just depended on the neighborhood. And while many stories were told that night--none of them complimentary, I assure you--there was a common theme: Spike was a liar and a cheat, a poor excuse for a man who'd steal from his own mother, if he knew where she was, or sleep with a friend's wife, if he had a friend--which he did not. Spike's only companion was his dog, Beast, a German Shepherd that went everywhere he did, and wasn't very friendly either.

You're probably wondering how Spike had such a successful music store when he was such a major jerk. The answer is simple--he was a rock star. Literally. His drum solos were legendary. After The Screaming Zombies' first album, Deathlock, went platinum in 1999 and Spike won "Drummer of the Year", there seemed to be no stopping this garage band of high school dropouts. But Spike found a way. With his huge ego and flair for paranoia, he managed to piss off everyone in no time including the band's manager, agent, publicist, producer, all the way up to the head of the record label. The roadies especially despised him. They would set his drums up the wrong way or turn his speakers off whenever they could get away with it. And let's not forget the rest of The Screaming Zombies, Snake, Slasher and Slime, a/k/a Daryl, Marcus and Ricardo; they had a million reasons to hate Spike--most of them crisp and green, with pictures of dead presidents on them. They blamed him for the band's implosion and spectacular crash to the bottom that left them as broke as when they started. People say it takes only ten minutes to get used to a luxury, but a lifetime to get over losing it. Lucky for the Zombies they were always stoned, so their memories of the good life were too hazy to be painful.

Fast-forward three weeks to the present where Spike, still dead of course, has somehow taken over my life, causing me to put my house on the line, my reputation at risk and my sanity over the edge. Well, let's face it, I wasn't all that stable to begin with, but still…

It's hard to know where to start, but here goes. My name is Jamie Quinn. Jamie isn't short for anything; my mom just thought it was a good name, one that offered more opportunities than say Courtney or Brittany. She didn't want to burden me with society's stereotypes by choosing a name that was too girly, or sounded like a playboy bunny. She was always thinking ahead like that, which also made her a great nurse. Because she could connect the dots faster than anyone, she always knew when a patient was about to take a turn for the worse. Her co-workers at Hollywood Memorial Hospital (one of the top hospitals in Florida) were so impressed that they started calling her "Psychic Sue." Although she brushed it off whenever they did that, I think she was proud of her nickname. It was her superpower, she would say. Superman may have had x-ray vision, but he could never match her diagnostic skills.

Unfortunately, like any superpower, my mom's could be used for good or evil. And there were secrets behind those green eyes. When her cancer came back, she was the first to know, but she kept it to herself until it was too late for treatment. I'm sure she had her reasons, but I can't think of a single one that makes any sense. As usual, she had planned ahead. Her life insurance paid off the small house I grew up in on Polk Street and left me with enough cash to take some time off and gather my thoughts. The thought-gathering was her idea. Now, six months later, I am still trying to gather them, but it's no use. They are shadow puppets, gray wisps flitting through my brain, and they refuse to be caught. Somehow my mother knew that after she was gone I, too, would take a turn for the worse. Psychic Sue strikes again.

There is another thing you need to know about me--I'm a terrible sleeper. Let me put it this way, if I were taking a class in sleeping, I would get an 'F' (with an 'A' for effort, which doesn't count). But don’t think I'm throwing a pity party for myself--I'm not. This is all relevant to the story. Because I don't sleep much, I wander the house at night like the ghost of Hamlet's father (also named Hamlet, of course), but I am much quieter about it. I rattle no chains and make no demands of anyone. I do, however, need to sleep later in the day than most people, just to catch up, which I am able to do now that I'm not working. I'm only telling you this so you'll understand how I slept through my Aunt Peg's call and her hysterical message on my answering machine.

It was Monday, July 1st, the day that Spike (newly dead) took over my life. I had staggered out of bed around eleven (a.m.) after a particularly rough night (although it's getting harder to rank them at this point), so it wasn't until my second cup of coffee that I noticed the blinking light on the phone. Hardly anyone ever calls me on my landline anymore, so I figured it was just a telemarketer or someone conducting a survey. When I finally gave in and pushed the button, the ragged sound of my Aunt Peg crying made me spill my coffee all over my lap. What she said sent my adrenaline level spiking to new levels.

"Oh my God, Jamie, where are you? I can't find your cell number…I don't know what to do. I need your help…Adam's in trouble (she's sobbing at this point and I can't understand what she's saying) he's….he's… been arrested! I'm so scared. Please call me the minute you hear this…"

Now I was officially freaked out. First, because my aunt sounds so much like my mother on the phone. Second, because my cousin Adam is not someone who should be in jail, ever. And third, because how could anyone expect me to help with a crisis of this magnitude? I could barely take care of myself!

There's one more thing I should tell you about myself, but I don't like to bring it up. Since I have no choice, I'll just throw it out there and hope you don't think less of me, or make assumptions about my honesty or integrity. The truth is…I'm a lawyer. There, I said it. I hope that hasn't changed your opinion of me. I practice family law exclusively, which means that my limited area of expertise includes divorce, adoption, paternity, custody and child support. I use the word 'limited' because it's the only area I know, and it's hard enough to keep up with that. The problem is that friends, family, acquaintances, and even strangers tend to ask my advice in areas that I know nothing about. I'm truly sorry, but I can't help you with a real estate closing, or tell you what your back injury is worth; I can't help you file your Social Security claim, or advise you whether to file for bankruptcy. And I sure as hell can't represent you in a criminal case.

For Adam's sake, I hoped that wasn't what my aunt had in mind.

By the time I called her back, Aunt Peg had gone from hysterical to eerily calm and I don't know which one worried me more. She said that they were at the Hollywood police station where Adam was being held. She needed to stay with him so she couldn't talk, but she'd fill me in when I came down.

"I'll get down there as soon as I can," I said. "You guys hang in there, okay?" I wanted to sound reassuring, but I'm not exactly the cavalry.

"I'll try, Jamie," she said, her voice cracking. "But there's something else I need you to do…"

"Of course, Aunt Peg, what is it?"

"Can you please come dressed like a lawyer?"

****

What scared me the most, starting out as a new lawyer, was that I couldn't begin to fathom the depths of my ignorance. The more I learned, the more I realized how much I didn't know. I've heard law schools actually teach students how to practice law these days and not just about research and writing. Well, it's about damn time, I say. Now that I've been practicing law for ten years, I know what to do and where to stand, how to dress and how to negotiate and, if I'm not sure about something, I can usually bluff my way through. I've also learned how to size up my opponents: the nervous ones with shaky hands, the blustery ones with something to prove, and the cool, confident ones I longed to emulate. But, as my first boss used to say, half the battle is just showing up. The other half is preparing the best you can with the information you have.

In this instance, I had no information to go on except what I already knew about Adam's situation. I sat down at my computer to find the statute I needed and quickly printed a copy of it, along with the amendments. Then, looking in the mirror, I adjusted the lapel of my navy blue "power suit." After putting on my mother's elegant gold necklace, I touched up my hair and make-up and finished by dusting off my briefcase. My ensemble was complete. If I weren't already a lawyer, I could have easily played one on TV.

I couldn't remember the last time I'd left the house, but it had to be at least a week. The days all blurred together. It turns out that when you aren't working, it doesn't really matter what day it is. After grabbing my umbrella from its perch by the front door, I slid behind the wheel of my Mini Cooper. There was no need to check the weather, summer days are always the same here--hot and muggy in the morning, thunderstorms in the afternoon.

When you think about South Florida (and how can you avoid it when we're always in the news?) you probably think of trendy South Beach or swanky Palm Beach, where Donald Trump has a mansion; you may even think of Fort Lauderdale, where Spring Breakers used to swarm the beaches in drunken hordes until they were chased away, but you probably never think of Hollywood, the quiet town that lies between Miami and Fort Lauderdale. With an area of only thirty square miles, Hollywood is unpretentious, affordable and quaint. The streets are named for presidents, admirals and generals, which can turn a trip to the grocery store into an American history lesson. I suppose GPS has taken all the fun out of that. It's strange how technology enhances life and diminishes it at the same time.

I find living in Hollywood comforting, not only because I grew up here, but also because it doesn't change much. I can relive my favorite memories as I drive past my favorite landmarks--the Wings 'N' Curls restaurant where we used to meet after high school football games; and Stratford's Bar where we went for billiards and cheap beer in college. If you're lucky enough to live and work in Hollywood, there's no such thing as a commute; everything is close by. Case in point, it's only four miles from my house on Polk Street to the Hollywood Police Station, but I still took the back streets to avoid the traffic lights. I would be arriving all too soon as it was and the thought of Adam--poor defenseless Adam--under arrest was twisting my stomach into knots. All the other times I hadn’t been there for him were now prickling in my brain. I needed to focus if I was going to help him.

I arrived just minutes later and found a shady spot to park, but didn't turn off the car. I was feeling a little panicky I must admit. Ten years as a lawyer and what did l know about criminal law? Only what I'd learned from watching a Law and Order marathon one Sunday--and I'd slept through most of it. In other words, nothing. Although the AC was blowing ice cold, beads of sweat dotted my upper lip and my hands were starting to feel clammy. Before I started sweating all over my best silk shirt, I decided to call my friend Grace. She'd know what to do. Grace was in-house counsel for a large securities firm, but she'd been a public defender right out of school. The call went straight to voice mail and my heart sank. I'd have to go in blind, what choice did I have? I felt my pulse throbbing in my left temple as I took a few calming breaths and turned off the ignition. Just as I was psyching myself up to get out of the car, my phone beeped. A text from Grace! Technology to the rescue! I take back everything I said before. With a sigh of relief, I turned the car back on and studied my phone with an intensity I usually reserve for pictures of Hugh Jackman.

Hey J--I'm stuck in a meeting, you ok?

Not so good, Gracie - my cousin Adam's been arrested!

OMG! What the hell happened???

No idea...I'm about to walk into Hollywood police station. Need your help, I'm clueless!

Ok, let's make a plan--if he's been charged, call me ASAP, and don't let him talk to anybody.

It might be too late…

True. The State attny could push for a psych eval but you'll hv to fight that or they can hold him 72 hrs.

Oh God, that's the last thing Adam needs!

Exactly. Now, if they don't charge him, you're golden. Just use the right buzz words & you'll hv a get out of jail free card. I'll send you the link now…

Gracie, you're the best!

Yeah, I know. Call me later.

Will do. Wish me luck…


As I crossed the short distance from the parking lot to the front door, the asphalt shimmered in the midday heat, creating watery mirages that popped in and out of existence. Towering palm trees loomed over me like self-appointed sentinels. (To be honest, I've been leery of tall palm trees ever since the day I almost got brained by a humongous palm frond falling from thirty feet up. Right in front of the courthouse! Talk about a personal injury case waiting to happen. The witnesses would've all been lawyers, except for that one lucky guy (or girl) that I (or my estate) hired to take the case. What a slam dunk that would've been. But what a stupid way to die, right?)

Although I'd driven by the police station hundreds of times on my way to court, I'd never been inside. In fact, I'd never been inside any police station--why would I?--and I had no idea what to expect. Maybe the hours I'd spent watching Castle and The Mentalist had prepared me for the real thing, but I had my doubts.

I guess I was expecting to walk through a metal detector since that's the drill at the courthouse, but that wasn't the case. Instead, I found myself in a small lobby jam-packed with unhappy people. It was a zoo. On one side, a distraught woman with a screaming baby was crying to a female officer while just a few feet away two scruffy-looking men were in each other's faces yelling about a broken lawn mower. At least I think that's what they were fighting about. I had to push my way through to reach the receptionist who was safely ensconced behind bullet-proof glass. She was a bored twenty-something with magenta hair who barely looked up from her computer to acknowledge me. She seemed immune to the commotion in the lobby. It could have been happening in another dimension or on a distant planet.

"You an attorney, ma'am?" she asked.

"Yes, I'm here for Adam Muller. I believe he's in custody."

"I'll need to see your Florida Bar card and ID. Are you carrying any firearms or weapons of any kind?"

"No, I most definitely am not." When did my hometown turn into the O.K. Corral?

After a cursory glance at my ID cards, she dismissed me with a nod. "Second door on the right," she said, buzzing me in with a flick of her long purple fingernail.

As I pulled the door open, I glanced back at the lawnmower guys who were now cursing each other out in what sounded like Russian. An officer built like a linebacker was heading their way and he looked grim. Keeping the peace seemed like a messy business. In fact, I thought it looked like the worst babysitting gig ever.

The contrast between the lobby and the other side of the door was remarkable. One little step had taken me from chaos to a well-ordered universe where everyone had a purpose and a destination. All around me, uniformed police officers and civilians were bustling about, some carrying folders, others having quick discussions in the hallway. If the lobby resembled an anthill that had been kicked over, then the inner office was a humming beehive. Alas, I must report that it looked nothing like the set of Castle or The Mentalist. How disappointing. I knew my day would be going downhill from there…

The second door on the right wasn't marked, so I knocked lightly before I opened it a crack. A shrill but familiar voice immediately pierced the silence.

"Leave us alone! My son has rights!!"

"Calm down, Aunt Peg, it's me," I said, as I slipped quietly into the room, closing the door behind me.

"Oh, Jamie, thank God you're here!" she said before she collapsed into my arms, sobbing, I patted her on the back and made soothing noises while I glanced around the stark room. The blue Berber carpeting was new and the walls were freshly painted, but there were no decorations or pictures to break up the startling whiteness. In the center of the room was a small round table with four modular chairs and, curled up in a corner, hugging his knees and rocking back and forth, was my cousin Adam.

Purchase Jamie Quinn Mystery Collection: Box Set Books 1-3 from:

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Barbara Venkataraman is an attorney and mediator specializing in family law.

She is the author of the award-winning Jamie Quinn Cozy Mystery series, as well as Teatime with Mrs. Grammar Person and Quirky Essays for Quirky People, a series of humorous essays. Her books have won numerous awards including three-time winner of the “Indie Book of the Day” Award, First Place in the 2016 Chanticleer Murder & Mayhem Mystery Writing Competition, Honorable Mention in the Readers’ Favorite Contest for Non-Fiction Humor, and Finalist, 2017 Kindle Book Awards. Her latest book is Accidental Activist: Justice for the Groveland Four which she co-authored with her son Josh about his four-year quest to obtain posthumous pardons for The Groveland Four.

Places to find Barbara Venkataraman:

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