Murder at 30,000 Feet – Week 2

This is why your airplane bathroom feels so small

When Jessica, the flight attendant, reaches your side, her shrill scream stabs your ears.

The US Marshal steps out of the aisle and flashes his badge. The lines on his face deepen as he scans the tight space and the bloody body filling it. He closes the door and glances at you over his shoulder. “The others can’t see this. It’ll only make them panic.”

You nod. He’s not wrong. But how will he investigate and keep an eye on the rough looking woman in cuffs who occupies the seat next to his? “What do you need me to do?”

“Go sit with Mara while I check this out.” He stretches on a pair of latex gloves, turning to Jessica. “Miss, don’t let anyone back here.”

Tears glisten at the corners of her eyes, and one slips down her cheek as she nods.

You ease into the seat beside the handcuffed criminal.

She tosses you a tight smile. “You here to babysit?” Her Australian accent is unmistakable.

“I wouldn’t call it that.” You study her face more closely. Hadn’t a reporter friend of yours wrote an article about this woman? You tilt your head. “Mind if I ask what those are about?” You motion toward the cuffs.

Mara crosses her arms, slumping in the seat. “Just because I’m chained up doesn’t make me guilty.” She chews her lip. “I’ve got a trial coming up for first degree murder, and I killed the guy. But I had to.”

“Did he attack you?”

She sighed. “No. It was what they call a crime of passion on those court shows. I didn’t go into the place looking to kill. But when I saw– I couldn’t help myself.”

Talk about vague. You glance around the corner. When will that Marshal finish up?

“Say, what’s going on back there?” The male half of the honeymooning couple leans over the seat in front of you and lifts a brow. “Melani heard the flight attendant screaming, and asked me to check.”

You glance in the direction of their seats, and Melani peers over the top of hers with wide eyes. “I can’t say.”

The Marshal steps into the aisle and removes his gloves. He opened his mouth to speak, but his eyes cut to the man speaking to you, and he clamps it shut.

“Look. I’m Trey Hyatt.” The honeymooner jabs a thumb toward his wife. “We deserve to know what’s going on.”

By this time a small crowd has gathered. The onlookers nod and chatter in approval to Trey’s declaration of their rights. Devon and his mother stand near where you’re sitting. While his mom wears a look of concern, Devon yanks a little girl’s pigtail then glances away, face wreathed in artificial innocence.

The old cowboy steps into the throng, squashed between row K and a woman wearing a wide-brimmed sun hat.

The Marshal clears his throat and motions for silence. “Okay. Hush! I’ll tell you what I know. But remain calm.”

The droning voices dull, and the Marshal continues. “I’m US Marshal Ken Durland.” He glances at you. “Someone found a body in the restroom.”

A collective gasp rises, and the talking recommences with fresh gusto.

“Quiet!” The old cowboy raises his voice over the throng, sounding more commanding than you anticipated. With a name like Percival, shouldn’t he have a timid voice? “Let the Marshal finish. I, for one, would like to know what this means for those of us on the plane. We’ve got lots of hours left to spend together. Wouldn’t it be nice to know if one of us is a killer?”

A hush descended.

“Thank you.” Marshal Ken nodded. “What was your name?”

“You can call me Griz.” Okay, now that name makes sense.

The Marshal adjusts his shoulder holster. “I found an ID on the body. The victim’s name is Jeff Archer. That’s all I know at the moment.”

Turbulence rattles the airplane, and you grasp the arm rests, lifting silent prayers for safety.

“What are you going to do?” Devon’s mom scrubs a hand over her face.

“I’ll place a call to headquarters and see if they can dig up any information on Mr. Archer. That should give me some idea who we might be looking for, and –“

“Do you think the killer’s still on the plane?” Trey reaches for Melani’s hand.

Marshal Ken nods slowly. “His body’s still warm. He hasn’t been dead more than an hour.”

The woman in the sun hat lifts a hand to her mouth.

Melani breaks into sobs.

Devon’s mother casts a glance at the prisoner beside you. Not a fearful one. Then she hustles her boy back to their seats despite his protests about wanting to see grandma. That kid’s impatience might be the death of all the passengers.

“Thanks for keeping an eye on Mara.” Ken returns to his seat, and you step into the crowded aisle. He grabs the phone from the seat back and holds it to his ear.

Another jerk of the plane sends you barreling into the old cowboy. He grips your arms and sets you on your feet. Lightning flashes through the window.

Could this flight get any worse? First a dead body, now a storm.

As Marshal Ken rams the in-flight phone into the cradle, a low growl escapes his lips.

You meet his gaze, hoping your look asks ‘what’s wrong?’ instead of ‘is this how we all die?’

“The storm cut out the connection. Looks like we’ll be doing this the old fashioned way.”

A lump forms in your throat. “We?”

“Can’t do it on my own.” He rubs his hands over his pant legs. “I’ll have Griz keep an eye on Mara here. Then we can ask some questions.” He gestures for you to lean closer.

When you’re out of earshot of the milling flyers, he holds up a photograph, lined with wrinkles, as if it had been stored in a pocket for years. “I found this on him.” You study the picture. A young woman sits at a picnic table, her face toward the camera. She holds a little girl in her lap. Both are smiling. You run your thumb over the place where the woman’s eyes had been gouged out. Jagged edges of the glossy paper scrape your skin.

What could this mean? Why carry around a vandalized photo? You narrow your eyes. Something about the woman’s face strikes a familiar chord, but maybe you’re just imagining it.

You glance at the closed restroom door. Was the man inside the victim of a senseless killing, or did he carry sinister secrets of his own?

*****

Clue #1 The photograph

Thank you for joining me for the second week of our ongoing Friday mystery! In case you didn’t notice, I used Penelope Kaye’s suggestion for Percival’s nickname, so I’ll be sending her a $10 Amazon gift card.

I’ve created a Character/Crime-Solving Word document for those of you wanting to take notes as the weeks progress. It would be a way to keep your suspicions and the clues organized. Also, there will be additional characters added in the coming weeks, so I will create supplements to add as we progress in the case.

Comment on every post while the mystery lasts, and you will be entered into a drawing for a $50 Amazon gift card.

Top Three Thursday- Serial Killers That Creep Me Out

Happy Thursday, friends! Hope you’re doing well despite the craziness going on in our world. It’s a comfort to know that no matter what happens, God is on the throne.

Still, it’s so easy to fall into the mindset that the evil permeating our society is a new thing. Well, it’s not. The Bible says there is nothing new under the sun, and those words are so true. To prove it, I’m going to share my list of the top three serial killers in history who creep me out to the point I could never write a full blog post about them for fear I wouldn’t sleep for weeks. Coming from me, that’s a big deal, since I typically go back to sleep hoping to finish scary dreams and see how they play out. You never know when you’ll stumble across a marketable plot for a thriller. *wink*

Without further ado, here are the psychos that keep me up at night.

3. Jeffrey Dahmer

Jeffrey Dahmer - Murders, Victims & Death - Biography
The Milwaukee Cannibal

Jeffrey Dahmer killed 17 young men between 1988 and 1991.

Though people close to his family described him as a happy child, Dahmer was never normal. One of his favorite pastimes as a pre-teen was collecting roadkill, cleaning it, and saving the bones. Somehow, I don’t think that’s anything well-adjusted happy children do. But I don’t have kids, so I could be wrong. Boy, I sure hope I’m not.

When he started killing, Dahmer lived in his grandmother’s basement, but killing people with her around got a little inconvenient, so he rented his own apartment with the money he earned working at the Ambrosia Chocolate Factory. (Talk about a twisted Willy Wonka.) With newfound privacy, his killing spree began in earnest. After each murder, he handled the bodies much like his had his childhood roadkill projects then stored their organs in the fridge for later. (I’ll leave it at that, since I’m sure his ‘Milwaukee Cannibal’ moniker spares me the need to go into detail.)

The aspect of his crime that gets me every time is a 14-year-old boy named Konerak Sinthasomphone. Dahmer had lured him and drugged him, and somehow the kid got away. He burst through the apartment door and onto the sidewalk. When he flagged down a pair of police officers and a group of people, he was too disoriented to make much sense. Dahmer came out after him, and assured the officers that he was caring for poor Konerak. A few bystanders urged the policemen to take the boy to safety. But they handed him back to Dahmer, and Konerak suffered the same fate as the others. So close. I can’t begin to imagine how those police officers felt after the truth came to light.

2. Albert Fish

When cannibal child killer Albert Fish killed a girl in Irvington
Werewolf of Wysteria

Albert Fish once boasted that he “had children in every state.” Now, when he said that, he meant it in the same way that Hannibal Lecter would ‘have someone for dinner.’ This guy died in 1936, but he still gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Since I don’t want to think too much about him, I’ll give you two of the many things that unsettle me about this man. First, after killing and consuming a little girl named Grace Budd, he wrote a letter to her mother describing everything. Second, when the time came to strap him into the electric chair, it took two jolts of the juice to kill him. It’s reported that he helped the executioner strap him in, because he was so excited to feel the electricity course through him. But due to the needles he’d buried beneath his skin, the first hit of Ben Franklin’s elixir didn’t get the job done.

Enough of him! Yikes!

  1. John Wayne Gacy
Timeline: Suburban serial killer John Wayne Gacy and the efforts ...
Pogo the Clown

Now, if you know me at all, it should come as no shock that a killer clown tops my list of nightmare-inducing maniacs. Since I first saw a clown at the green age of four, I’ve been terrified of the sadistic monsters. Truly, if you have to paint a smile on your face, something it wrong.

John Wayne Gacy posed as an upstanding member of the community by day and dressed as Pogo the Clown for children’s birthday parties. (Why do parents think clowns are a good idea? Never understood that one.) He killed 33 young men that police are aware of and buried them under his house. Gacy himself lost count when he ran out of room beneath the home place and started dumping bodies into the Des Plaines River.

All I can say to that is, “Typical clown behavior.”

I left most of the gory details out of these crimes. You’re welcome! I’m sure if you wanted to find out more, the internet would provide you plenty of reading material. But I can’t let my mind dwell on these guys for too long, because . . . nightmares.

There are plenty more psychopaths that make my skin crawl, but these three never fail to turn my stomach. Have you ever watched a documentary or read a book on a true crime that kept you up at night? Tell me about it below!

Murder at 30,000 Feet- Introduction

The fasten seat belt light flicks off with a hollow ding. You scrub a hand over your face then check the time on your iWatch. Only thirty-one hours until touch down in Sydney. Only thirty-one. The recycled air scratches your throat. Lovely. Good thing you brought Halls Fruit Breezers to take the edge off. You pop one in your mouth, and the creamy strawberry lozenge coats the aggravation.

Beside you, an old cowboy who had introduced himself as Percival Pettigrew when you first embarked slides his Stetson over his face and slumps into his seat, hands folded over his stomach. His fingertips are stained yellow, and cigarette smoke clings to him like a bad rash. Percival Pettigrew? Really? You chew the inside of your cheek. The name failed to fit the crusty cowboy persona. Why not give him a nickname? Duke? Nah, John Wayne will always be the Duke. Hmmm. Have to think about that one.

Percival Pettigrew…

“What can I get you to drink?” The stewardess, Jessica, stops her cart beside you. Her dark hair swept up in a French twist.

“Just water.” You’ll save it until after the fruity throat disc works its magic, but if you don’t get something to drink now, who knows when she’ll make it back around to row G.

She opens a miniature water bottle and pours about an ounce into a plastic cup. Stingy much? You take the swallow of water and smile. It’s not her fault the airline insists on behaving as if we’re in the midst of a shortage.

Jessica

Your seat lurches, sending water sloshing over the edges of your cup. After fitting it into the circular groove on your tray table, you peek around. A little boy rams his feet into your back again, his mother pats his leg, smiling. “Now, Devon, let’s find a new activity,” she says in a coddling voice. Precious Devon continues his assault against the seat and your final nerve. Too bad his mom doesn’t know that the word ‘parent’ it both a noun and a verb.

Portrait of a kid | free image by rawpixel.com
Devon
I took this photo of Nadia, one year ago, on the streets of Chisinau, Moldova.  She told me that in her early 20s she was thinking that those are the best years of somebody’s life. But her early 30s...
Devon’s Mom

The plane jerks, and Jessica grips the back of your seat. Your heart climbs into your throat as you grip the arm rests until your knuckles turn white. Probably wasn’t your brightest idea to binge watch Lost before flying across the Pacific. But hey, if you crash on an island occupied by homicidal smoke, polar bears, and a group of toughs who want to use you for their crazy experiments, you’ll arrive prepared.

Old Percival snores on. His fingers twitch as the turbulence passes. You still can’t think of a nickname that suits. Probably the high altitude. Devon’s feet pummel your back again. That little shyster isn’t helping creative matters either.

A baby cries from somewhere behind you but quickly settles. You pull your iPad from its sleeve. Might as well get a little work done. The last installment of the Banter app expose won’t write itself. How many people will delete their Banter accounts when they read the truth about their privacy being compromised? You hit the power button, and your tablet screen glows to life. You shrug. Most people wouldn’t care enough to worry about the spying software attached to their profiles. Or the government entities that keep tabs on their online activity. No, they were too excited to show their friends pictures of their sandwiches and post vague woe-is-me sentences in a desperate attempt to fish for sympathy. Whatever gets them through the day. You can’t be faulted for withholding information that laid bare the sinister side of social media.

Once you reach Sydney, there will be no time to finish this article before starting coverage of the Cordova trial. You take a sip of water. How could one man be capable of so much evil. You love your job, but the nightmarish cases it forces you to dive into leave you wishing for the chance to write a feel-good piece. Something about the Make-a-Wish foundation or Chick-fil-A. Anything but corruption and murder.

You straighten your shoulders and set to work. That’s not what you’re known for.

Devon’s tap dance on your back continues. If you don’t get out of this chair in the next minute, you’ll find a way to punish the little delinquent yourself. Didn’t someone say it takes a village to raise a child? Well, you’ll be glad to join this kid’s village. Or give that Super Nanny a call. Where’s a naughty mat when you need one?

You slip out of your seat, tablet in hand. A quick trip to the restroom is in order. Maybe you can finish your article without being kicked like a soccer ball.

As you pass row H, you narrow your eyes at Devon, hoping he’ll get the hint and knock it off when you get back. Devon sticks his tongue out, and your hint sails directly over his curly head. His mom sits beside him, beep, bop, booping on her smartphone. Judging by the sound of the music, she’s playing Kwazy Cupcakes. At least her taste in games is solid even if her parenting style is what the French call ‘checked-out.’

You continue down the aisle, scanning the faces of your fellow passengers. There are the honeymooners you avoided eye contact with in the terminal. That got PG-13 a little too quick.

Couples Of The Year - Interracial Couples - YouTube

A man wearing a badge sits near the bathroom door. Beside him, sits a woman in handcuffs. Okay. Did you accidentally step into a Lost remake? No. This criminal looks nothing like Evangeline Lilly.

William Fichtner - IMDb
U.S. Marshal
Female Prisoner

The green strip above the door handle reads ‘vacant.’ You pull open the door and a cold chill skims your arms. A man wearing a blood stained Red Cross t-shirt lays sprawled beside the sink. The gash across his throat turns your stomach.

You motion for the stewardess. But what can she do? Nothing can save this man. You fight the urge to scream. Somebody murdered him. You scan the backs of passengers heads.

Who?

***

Thank you so much for joining me on this whodunit adventure!!! Comment below to let me know what you think we should nickname our cowboy. Be sure to include your email address, because whoever picks the winning name will receive a $10 Amazon gift card.

Follow me for weekly clues that will point you to the killer one lucky ducky who follows the story to the end will receive a $50 Amazon gift card!

See you next week!

Author Spotlight- Connie Queen

Connie Queen- Author of Justice Undercover

I’m so excited to introduce and amazing author and my personal friend, Connie Queen! Her debut novel, Justice Undercover released on June 1st, and it was amazing! Read to the end, because there is a free copy up for grabs!

Here’s the blurb to whet your appetite for the amazingness that is Justice Undercover:

Going undercover as a nanny brings presumed-dead ex-US Marshal Kylie Stone closer to catching the man who murdered the witness in her protection—and also killed Texas Ranger Luke Dryden’s sister. When someone tries to kidnap the twins in her care, Kylie must tell their uncle the truth…and convince Luke to help her. But will revealing her identity put all their lives at stake?

Now that you’re dying to read the book for yourself, lets dig into the interview, then I’ll let you know how to get your hands on a copy of your own.

First of all, I want to thank Connie for taking the time to answer these interview questions. I’ve been looking forward to this since last month. Now, what unfinished writing projects do you have gathering dust in a drawer? Do you think you’ll ever try to publish them, or were they just part of the learning process?

I have multiple writing projects hidden away. I have three completed western historical romances and a few more that are not finished. I grew up on westerns, notably John Wayne, and enjoyed reading Louis L’Amour. I absolutely loved writing my cowboy stories but after many rejections, I realized my style of western historicals didn’t really fit the publishers I was targeting. Unless I want to totally change the stories (and I don’t) they will remain part of the learning process.

I watched John Wayne growing up too. He’s the epitome of a cowboy as far as I’m concerned. And I totally understand not wanting to change the stories you worked so hard on. We all have projects that are a real bear! Which book of yours was the toughest to write? Why?

I just turned in a synopsis and the first 3 chapters to a romantic suspense. The idea of A 911 dispatcher receives a call from her sister who’s presumed dead, should’ve been simple. But alas, it just wouldn’t come together. I continued to write myself into a box. Finally, I just kept writing scenes whether they made sense or not, and only then was able to write the synopsis.

That sounds like an intriguing premise for a book. I’m already looking forward to reading it! Do you have any quirky writing habits?

Yes! See the answer to question 2? This is not uncommon for me. I want to plot, but I’m more of a panster. If I can’t figure out what comes next, I jump ahead to a scene that I know is needed. I do realize this is not the most time-efficient way to write a novel.

If it makes you feel any better, I’m the same way. I want to plot, but it just doesn’t work for me. Skipping ahead can really get the creativity flowing again. Where did you grow up, and do you use this setting in your novels?

I grew up on a farm/ranch in Texas. Even though I use fictional towns in my novels, I base it on north Texas and the county I grew up in. Justice Undercover, my debut, has a quarry scene. About 20 miles from my home, there is a private quarry where the teenagers go swimming even though the landowner has No Trespassing signs posted. Also, as a child, my dad rented a pasture for cattle that had a small lake. I remember Daddy complaining about the kids taking his gate off the hinges after he had put a lock on it. Kind of hard to keep the cows up with no gate.

Isn’t this an amazing cover?

Knowing the scenes from your book are based on real life places is really neat! Makes me want to read Justice Undercover again. If you could choose, which book of yours would you want adapted for the silver screen? Who would play the main characters?

I have a time-slip story called Jackson’s Fury that is about an 80-something year-old preacher who is giving his last sermon. As the congregation settles back in the pews for a boring speech, they are knocked off their feet when the little old man begins to tell about “the great sinner of our time” –the personal drinking/mob/murdering prodigal son story of the preacher during his younger days.

This is an older story of mine and I had pictured Clint Walker who stood at 6’6” tall  to play the part of the old preacher, but sadly Clint passed away a couple of years ago at age 90.

Well, I would have definitely wanted to see that movie! Thank you again for giving my readers a chance to get to know you!

I’m attaching Connie’s social media links below, so you can keep in touch with her and get information on her upcoming novels. Drop a comment below, and I’ll enter you in a drawing for a paperback copy of Justice Undercover. I’ll be holding the drawing on Friday, July 10, 2020.

Facebook: Connie Queen@heartthrobbingsuspense

Twitter: twitter.com/conniesuequeen

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Justice-Undercover-Love-Inspired-Suspense/dp/1335402896/ref=tmm_mmp_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Harlequin: https://www.harlequin.com/shop/books/9781335402899_justice-undercover.html

Connie Queen spent her life in Texas where she met and married her high-school sweetheart. Married for 34 years, they’ve raised eight children and are enjoying their grandchildren.

As a child, Connie remembers her mom and sisters reading, but she preferred to be outside. It wasn’t until later, she found the joy of being whisked away into another world. 

Today she resides in Nebraska with her husband, and Nash, her Great Dane, where she’s working on her next suspense. 

Top 3: Most Emotional Episodes of Criminal Minds

After listening to a particularly emotional audio book today, I’ve decided to list my top three sob-worthy Criminal Minds episodes to kick off my new monthly edition of ‘Top 3’ here at Novel Concepts. Now, in all honesty, I typically cry at some point during every episode. I’ll just list the ones that make me ugly cry.

#3 Season 5 Episode 9- 100

If you’ve watched the show with any regularity, you knew this was coming. When George Foyet (a despicable human being) killed Haley Hotchner while she was on the phone with Aaron hit me straight in the grief bone. Then, Hotch’s panic when he wasn’t sure his son, Jack, had followed his code to hide? More tears. This is an emotionally jarring episode, and it proved the writers were not afraid to let our heroes hurt in the deepest ways imaginable.

#2 Season 8 Episode 12- Zugzwang

I don’t know about you, but when Reid lost Maeve, it tore my heart out. After all poor Spence had been through–torture, drug addiction, at least two bullet wounds, fearing schizophrenia would be genetically passed to him–he finally met the girl of his dreams. Well, he didn’t exactly meet her, but they’d been talking for a while and made plans to meet in person. Even though they hadn’t officially clapped eyes on one another, he loved her–really loved her. One of my favorite things he said about her when Blake asked if he was afraid to meet her in person because she may not look like he imagined was, “It doesn’t matter what she looks like. She’s already the most beautiful girl in the world to me.” *Sigh* Why aren’t more guys like Dr. Spencer Reid? But just as my heart began to hope something good would happen to him, a stalker kidnapped Maeve, and the first time Spencer met her in person, his soul mate wound up with a bullet in her head. As much as I hurt for him when the psychopath had him, my heart ached ten times as much when he lost Maeve.

#1 Season 5 Episode 16- Mosely Lane

This little dilly makes me weep every time. Now, I don’t mean a one-tissue kind of emotional experience. I’m talking a full box of Kleenex (or roll of TP depending on what’s handy). While it’s completely awful that the UNSUBs in this episode kidnap children then dispose of them in the family’s crematorium, it’s the ending that gets me. When one little boy’s parents learned that their son had been killed after helping another child THE DAY BEFORE the BAU team located the missing kids, I lost it. They were one day late. And those poor parents had to watch all the happy reunions, knowing they’d never have one of their own. I’m tearing up now, just thinking about it.

I’d love all you fellow Criminal Minds fans to weigh in. Which episodes punch you in the feels?

Author Spotlight- James R. Hannibal

Image result for james r. hannibal

I’m so excited for the opportunity to introduce you to James Hannibal. Not only is he at the top of my list of favorite authors, but he’s been a major blessing to me since I met him at the ACFW Conference in September. He’s got a heart to help put an end to the exploitation of children, and Compassion International plays a part in his newest release, Chasing the White Lion. Be sure to read to the end to learn more about this organization that brings hope to at-risk children around the world and how you can make a positive difference in the life of a child.

His stories are on-the-edge-of-your-seat suspenseful from start to finish, his characters will stick with you long after you read the last page, and the positive messages he includes are both challenging and uplifting. If you haven’t read his work yet, you’re missing out. In the words of Donald Trump, ‘Everyone knows it, and everyone agrees.’ He took the time to answer some of my most burning questions, and I’m looking forward to sharing them with each of you.

1. Your characters—among everything else—really make your books unforgettable. What is your process for creating such diverse and relatable characters?

My characters almost always start as people in my life, at least the good guys. Maybe that’s why I struggle with the bad guys. I don’t want to see people I know in that light. In one way or another, I have personal relationships with my cast of good guys, even when one character is an amalgam of several people, because I have personal relationships with the people who inspire them. The closest I’ve come to doing this with a bad guy was to use a horrible person I’d been studying in the intelligence world. I’d studied him so much that I felt like I knew him, and he inspired the villain in Shadow Catcher. Unfortunately, I wound up making the guy so close to the real villain that I got myself in trouble with the Chinese government.

2. If you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world for a year while writing a book that took place in that same setting, where would you choose?

Tough question. I’ve done this with London (sort of). I was flying a regular route to London as an airline pilot while working on the Section 13 books. They’re about a secret society on Baker Street. I spent anywhere from five to ten days a month in the city during that time.

I’m about to kick off a fantasy series set in a well-established world. I’d love to spend a year as a guardian at the labyrinthine castle of Lightraider Academy, nestled high in the Celestial Peaks and warmed against the long months of snow by a thermal spring. To get close to this fantasy setting, I’d need to arrange a stay at Hochosterwitz Castle in southern Austria. Anyone who wishes to support this effort, please send donations.

The Gryphon Heist by [James R. Hannibal]
One of my top 10 reads of 2019

3. What was your favorite childhood book?

Hands down, my favorite book as a child was the Horse and His Boy from The Chronicles of Narnia. I recently learned from author and C.S. Lewis expert Matt Mikalatos that this story is a stylistic departure from the rest of the series. The Horse and His Boy is a plot-driven, boyhood adventure story, while the others have more fable-like styles. This is likely why it appealed to me more than the others as kid.

4. Have you visited any of the locations in Chasing the White Lion?

Washington D.C. was a second home for a while, and I did some time in Eastern Europe. I’ve never been to the Greek Isles, Russia, or Thailand. I created the Greek Isles scenes from pure research. For the other two, I have former “business associates” who helped me out

5. Who was your favorite character to write and why?

I have a lot of fun with Finn. We share a daredevil spirit. Sometimes I use Finn to relive the glory days of my youth. At other times, thanks to Finn, I find myself begging my wife to let try something I’ve never done and definitely shouldn’t.

“Honey, this is necessary research,” I always say.

“No,” she always replies. “No it’s not.”

Chasing the White Lion by [James R. Hannibal]
So far, my top read for 2020

6. How long on average does it take you to write a book?

I like to have nine months. One month to plan, seven months to write, and one month to revise.

7. Do you hide secrets/inside jokes in your books that only a few people will find?

I can neither confirm nor deny. I will say The Fourth Ruby has a scene that has special meaning to U.S. Air Force Academy graduates. The Nick Baron series also includes decipherable codes for serious code aficionados. The acknowledgements include a hidden message that require old-school code-breaking knowledge, and the text of each book holds the clues.

Shadow Maker (Nick Baron Series Book 2) by [James R. Hannibal]
At the top of my TBR pile

8. What do you hope your readers will take away from Chasing the White Lion?

I hope readers see two things from Chasing the White Lion. First, through Valkyrie, I hope they see how we con ourselves. We sell ourselves lies that might hold us back in our relationship with Christ or hold us back from having a relationship with Him at all. Second, through Compassion International’s role in the story, I hope readers see the value of sponsoring a child in need. Compassion is a real organization, and the hope and sense of identity they bring to families and children around the globe helps slam the door on human trafficking.

9. Who is your favorite author?

C.S. Lewis is my favorite, with Clive Cussler’s later work coming in a close second. Clive is the undisputed master of adventure, and he realized later in his career that he didn’t need the foul language or other stuff to make his stories exciting. Taking that stuff out made them so much more readable.

10. Compassion International played a part in Chasing the White Lion, made me want to sponsor all the children. How did that partnership come about and how did it impact the development of the book?

I’ve been partnering with Compassion for a while. It’s a passion for my whole family. When I realized I wanted to make human trafficking a subject matter in the book, I went to the people who I trust most regarding child dignity. Compassion deals with hard topics in the real world, including child poverty and human trafficking. They manage to do this while respecting the dignity and likeness of Christ of these kids. I knew I needed their help to do the same. In talking it out with my contacts there, I realized I needed to write many scenes we’d normally see from the villain’s perspective from a kidnapped child’s perspective instead. I’m so glad it’s been effective. Since the start, a portion of every book sold has gone to Compassion’s work. Now, even better, if one of your readers chooses to sponsor a child through Compassion.com, they can send their initial receipt to me at jamesrhannibal.com, and I will send them a free signed copy of the book as a gift of thanks.

Shadow Catcher (Nick Baron Series Book 1) by [James R. Hannibal]

If you’d like to consider sponsoring a child through Compassion International, here is the link to their website: https://www.compassion.com/sponsor_a_child/?referer=603603 It’s a great cause, and not only will you have a positive impact in a child’s life, but you’ll get a signed copy of Chasing the White Lion. It’s a win-win!

I’m giving away a copy of The Gryphon Heist and Chasing the White Lion to one lucky winner on May 8th. Please comment below with your email address for an entry into the drawing. Feel free to share this post with anyone you know that loves free books and has a heart for children at risk of being sold into human trafficking.

The Horror Hotel

H.H. Holmes and his Chicago hotel

Close your eyes. WAIT! Forget I said that. If your eyes are closed, you won’t be able to keep reading. So, imagine the Chicago World’s Fair with your eyes wide open. The year is 1893. You’re looking forward to all the brand new sights and sounds at what is being called the Columbian Exhibition. Patriotism swells in your chest as you hear the Pledge of Allegiance recited for the first time by a group of school children. Your taste buds nearly explode as you sample Juicy Fruit gum, Vienna sausages, and Aunt Jemima pancake mix. Okay, so if you’re anything like me, your digestive system will explode after eating a Vienna sausage, but despite the fact that those questionable cylinders are nothing more than mystery meat, they’re still a novelty. And you’re the first person in your neighborhood to get a serious bout of Montezuma’s Revenge from the sodium-laden weenies. Check you out!

Something about Chicago resonated with you the day you arrived, and you gave up your room at the Sauganash Hotel and opted for a long term rental at a new building owned by H.H. Holmes. You’ll search for a job eventually. After all, you’re a responsible adult, but for now, why not enjoy the once-in-a-lifetime experience of the World’s Fair?

After a long day of sensory overload, you want nothing more than to crawl between the cool sheets of your hotel room bed and catch a solid seven to nine hours like the doctor recommends. You take the steps to your room, but when you reach to top, you freeze. A dead end. Something is not right with this picture. Stairs are supposed to lead somewhere. Or maybe you’re already in bed. Already dreaming. You pinch the flesh on your arm. Hard. No you’re definitely awake. A purple welt is rising on your arm to prove it. Have you fallen through the looking glass?

An artist’s rendition of the interior of the Holmes Mansion, showing the staircases with no destination, the basement used for surgical experiments, and the gas chambers.

Unease prickles your skin. No, something is incredibly wrong. You descend the steps two at a time and run down the hall on your left, stomach twisting. Those little sausages won’t stay down much longer. The muscles between your shoulder blades knot and snarl. This has to be a dream. You pinch yourself again, hoping to wake up. Nope. Still in the creepy hallway. By this time, your breathing is ragged. There has to be a way out of here. Where is everyone? If only you could someone for directions out of this waking nightmare. But it’s too quiet. Like a crypt.

Numbers on the doors farther down the hall grab your attention. You take a step closer. ‘205.’ Slowly, your muscles untangle, and you pull your room key from your pocket. Your room number, ‘213,’ is stamped on the smooth brass. A breath you didn’t realize you were holding gushes from your lungs. Exhaustion has always had the habit of playing tricks on your brain.

You find your room, unlock the door, and open your carpetbag. Time for jammy-jams and dreamland. Once you dress for bed, you slip between the sheets. Your feet have been trapped in shoes and stockings all day, and the linen feels cold against your tired, swollen toes. Ahhh. You chuckle to yourself. How could you get so worked up just trying to find your room. What a ninny.

Maze-like floor plan of the hotel.

A low, metallic click echoes from the pipes in the wall. Maybe between now and the next World’s Fair some inventor will find a way to keep pipes from knocking. Wouldn’t that be nice? You sink deeper into the mattress, and the springs squeak. Wait a minute. Your eyelids snap open. That smell. You sniff the air, and terror’s cold, wart-covered hand sinks it’s fingernails into your chest. Gas. You try holding your breath, but the unmistakable fumes curl up your nostrils. You yank on the door knob, but it doesn’t budge. This can NOT be happening.

The window.

You run to the far wall and pull up on the sash, but your finger catches on a jagged nail poking through the wood frame.

Trapped. You ignore the pulse in your finger and run to the door.

If you don’t get out of here soon– No. Can’t let your mind go there. You bang on the door, but the silence that answers you leaves a two ton weight on your chest. Or is that feeling a by-product of the gas? As many visitors have flooded the White City for the Exhibition, surely, the room next to yours is occupied. You pound your fist on the wall and scream for help, but your cries end in an oxygen deprived gasp.

Nothing.

Black specks crawl at the corners of your vision, and a strange sense of calm wraps you in a warm blanket. The shadows cast on the wall by streetlights and the lace curtains fade. Everything goes black.

Investigators discovered the remains of animals as well as human in the Horror Hotel. One corpse belonged to a child who couldn’t have been more than seven years old.

When investigators searched what had become known at the ‘Murder Castle,’ what they discovered would chill the blood in their veins. A trap door in the bathroom floor of Holmes’ private apartment lead to a chute that was used for a little more than laundry, if you catch my drift. One room was lined with gas fixtures. (Who knows. Holmes could have inspired some of Adolf Hitler’s grisly methods.) The walls were lined with metal to kill any sounds originating from inside the deadly chambers.

It wasn’t until officers descended into the basement that the full impact of Holmes’ dirty deeds manifested.

Crematory

An operating table, bloody clothes, various surgical tools, homemade torture devices, and a crematory.

H.H. Holmes had attended medical school and developed an unsettling fascination with dead bodies. While studying in Michigan, he stole cadavers from the laboratory and took out insurance policies on the people whose bodies he purloined. Then, Holmes would burn or mutilate the bodies and plant them for police to find. Talk about a morbid insurance fraud tactic, but it worked. Though he settled in Chicago as a pharmacist (several of his customers died after taking pills he dispensed, btw), his curiosity for more . . . involved ‘medical’ procedures never waned.

After incapacitating his victims in the gas chamber or with the more hands-on method of holding a chloroform soaked rag over their faces, he’d dump them down the chute and dissected them in his basement research lab. Curiosity sated, he sold his victims’ organs on the black market and their skeletons to medical institutions.

It is estimated that he killed 200 people in his horror hotel between 1892 and 1894, but that number can’t be substantiated. Only 9 of those victims had a solid link to Holmes and his Murder Castle. Among these 9 were women who disappeared while working as his stenographers. When his employees vanished, it led the police to Holmes’ doorstep.

Still, during the course of the Chicago World’s Fair, thousands of people went missing, so speculation abounds as to the actual number of men and women who died at the hand of H. H. Holmes in his Horror Hotel.

While researching for this post, I discovered a fictional story based on the true events surrounding H.H. Holmes and the Chicago World’s Fair. Honestly, I can’t believe I haven’t read this yet, since I absolutely loved Grace Hitchcock’s book ‘The Gray Chamber.’ This one’s going on top of my TBR pile, and I’d like the chance to add it to yours. Comment below, and one participant will win an eBook copy!

Author Interview and Giveaway- Nancy Mehl

Nancy Mehl

I’m beyond excited to introduce you to one of my all-time favorite authors, Nancy Mehl! Not only is her Kaely Quinn Profiler series one of the best I’ve read, but she’s been a personal blessing to me over the last few months. Without further ado, let’s dig into the interview.

  1. Are any events/people in your books based on reality, or is it pure imagination?

A combination. I believe we put some of ourselves and our life experiences in our stories. It’s what we know and what we understand.

2. Have you visited any of the locations in your books?

Yes. When my stories were based in Kansas, I almost always visited the places I wrote about. Most of the towns weren’t real, but I wanted to make certain they could exist in areas where I put them. When working on a series set in Sugarcreek, Ohio, I actually traveled there and was able to visit local shops and places I’d written about. It was a lot of fun.

3. Who was your favorite character to write and why?

Kaely Quinn, the main character in my Kaely Quinn Profiler series. She is so unique I loved writing about her.

4. What is your favorite genre to read?

Mystery and suspense. I’ve always loved it since I was a little girl. Still do.

You absolutely have to read this one! And isn’t the cover beautiful?

5. Do you hide secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

Sometimes I put the names of friends in my books without telling them. I love it when they find themselves in my story.

6. What is your most unusual writing quirk?

I can’t think of anything that’s really unusual. I do listen to music when I write. My dog is always in the room with me. I have a bird feeder outside my window and like to watch the birds while I’m writing. Not sure those are very unusual. Sorry.

7. What do you most hope your readers take away from Dead End?

Of course, I want them to enjoy the book. I’ll be wrapping up Kaely’s story so I pray they will be satisfied with the way I did it. I think Dead End offers a lot of hope. My prayer is that they’ll take that away with them.

Another winner

8. What is your favorite word and why?

My favorite word? That’s easy. Jesus.

9. If you had the opportunity to live anywhere in the world for a year while writing a book that took place in that same setting, where would you choose?

Alaska! I dream about taking a cruise there. I want to see the northern lights and watch a whale swim past the boat. Anyone who knows me knows I love snow. I think I could be happy there for a year!

10. Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?

Thank you for buying my books and for all your kind comments to me. They mean more than you will ever know. Their encouragement is almost as good as chocolate!

Releasing 3/31/2020

I’m so thankful Nancy took the time to give us a peek into her process and her life.

In honor of her newest release, Dead End, I’m hosting a giveaway. Comment below (with your email address) to be entered for a chance to win one of three e-book copies of this amazing story! Be sure to drop your comment before midnight Saturday, April 4th. I’ll draw names on Sunday! To be honest, I’m a low key jelly of whoever wins. I pre-ordered a paperback, and Amazon said I won’t get it until April 30th. That is way to long to wait, considering I’ve been rather impatiently biding my time since December to find out how the series ends . . . But, I’ll take the moral high ground and be over the moon happy for the three lucky winners!

Stuff of Nightmares

Annie Andrews (middle) with her mother and younger sister, Jessica.

Some people enjoy watching horror movies. The sensation of a tingling spine and racing pulse gives them a little thrill. But when the credits roll, and the TV flickers off, it’s only stories. They can curl beneath the cool sheets, close their eyes, and know none of that can happen. It’s all make-believe. Right?

Well, sometimes the truth is scarier than fiction. Such was the case for Annie Andrews and her family.

The year was 1986. Annie and Jessica’s mother had passed away, leaving them grieving and often alone while their father worked to pay the bills. Their mother had been the glue that held the family together, and Annie wished she could talk to her one more time.

One day, the phone rang, and Annie answered. A neighborhood boy, Danny LaPlante, had begged her number from mutual friends. Without being a total skeez, he told her she was pretty and how much he’d like to get to know her. All the things girls want to hear. After several phone calls, he asked her out for ice cream. It sounded innocent enough, and Annie hoped to somehow fill the void her mother left behind. Maybe a boyfriend was the answer. She agreed, and they made a visit to the ice cream parlor together.

Like teenage girls–or any girl, for that matter–Annie’s mind built Danny into a dream boat he could never hope to be. When she met him face to face, disappointment soured the ice cream. As kindly as possible, she ended things with the anti-Prince Charming.

Needing her mother more than ever, Annie, along with Jessica, grabbed an Ouija board and candles. It was time for a seance. She had to talk with her mother. Tell her good-bye. Let her know how much she was missed. Candle flames bobbed, casting light against the grimy basement walls. Nothing. The planchette didn’t move. It was all just a bunch of baloney

Later that night, when Annie lay in bed, a knocking sound tapped the walls. When she searched the house, everything seemed normal. But the thumps persisted. Was it her mother? Had the seance actually worked?

As months progressed, the tapping continued intermittently. Probably just a friendly greeting from their dear departed. But when the girls started finding personal items and furniture moved around the house, a creepy crawly feeling settled it. Whatever was happening was more sinister than their mother’s presence.

After their father left for work one day, strange sounds filtered from the basement. Together the girls trekked the creaking steps. When they reached the concrete floor, words written in what appeared to be blood dripped from the walls. ‘I’m in your room come find me.’ This wasn’t Mother. The girls ran screaming from the house, looking for a neighbor to call their father and alert him.

The girls’ father, Brian Andrews, hadn’t heard the noises. He believed his daughters’ hysterics were their way of acting out after losing their mother. When he checked the writing on the basement wall, he found the cryptic message had been written in ketchup. Yep, nothing more than a cry for attention.

For the next few days, things in the Andrews’ home returned to a semblance of normal. No more noises, ketchup messages, or misplaced furniture. Annie breathed a relieved sigh. Fear’s clutches loosened their hold. But all good things must come to an end, and one night another message appeared on the wall. Again, the girls ran from the house in an attempt to escape the unknown menace within.

Seeing the girls’ terror, Brian Andrews entered the house with his daughters, planning to find another staged work of art from Annie and Jessica. But when he stood still in the foyer, sounds from upstairs snagged his attention. Slowly, he moved to the second floor. The noises grew louder with each step. Light seeped under a bedroom door, and a shadow played from somewhere inside the room.

Brian pushed open the door. Panic rippled as Danny LaPlante, dressed in the clothing of the deceased Mrs. Andrews turned to face him. The teenager carried a hatchet, poised to strike.

LaPlante chased the family through the house. Once he’d captured Brian, Annie, and Jessica and tied them up, he told them to start praying, because they were going to die. Their prayers were answered when one of the girls broke free of her ligatures and helped her sister and father escape through a bedroom window. They called the police. It was over. Or it should have been, anyway.

Police arrived at the scene, and what they found left them scratching their heads. Messages written on the walls and coins glued to the ceiling. Weird. But they didn’t find Danny LaPlante. Still, the Andrews family was understandably uncomfortable with the idea of returning home and stayed away for nearly two weeks. When they gathered the courage to go back, Danny LaPlate was standing in the window–waiting for them.

Again, the police stormed the Andrews home. They searched the place top to bottom, and in the basement, an officer found something odd behind the washing machine. When they moved it away from the wall, shock prevailed. A hole in the plaster led to a space between the inside and outside walls. Danny LaPlante crouched inside his hiding place, and he didn’t come out quietly.

Danny LaPlante

Eventually, they coaxed him out and arrested him. In the space behind the wall, lay a sleeping bag, beer, and food wrappers. He’d been living there a while. When the whole story came to light, it was discovered he broke into the Andrews’ home for the first time after Annie decided they weren’t a match. He’d watched the seance Annie and Jessica had performed nearly a year earlier. In that moment, he had seen the girls’ vulnerability and determined to terrify them. Annie would pay for spurning his advances. Turns out Annie Andrews’ radar was working. I’d like to say she dodged a bullet, but after the horror movie she and her family survived, that wouldn’t be a fair statement.

I’d also like to say that Danny LaPlate was sentenced to some serious hard time, and they all lived happily ever after, but the story doesn’t end here. Due to the fact Scary McCreeperson (a.k.a. Danny LaPlante) was a minor and no physical harm was done, Annie’s ex-boyfriend spent a few months in a youth detention facility. Then, before the trial, his mommy paid his bail.

Court was scheduled for December 1987, but before Danny could be tried for his crimes, the unthinkable happened. LaPlante disappeared.

Then one day, Andrew Gustofson returned home from work to find his pregnant wife had been shot in the head, and their two children drowned in separate bathtubs. The evidence pointed to Danny LaPlante. Police tracked down the seventeen-year-old triple murderer. It was still unclear whether the killings resulted from a robbery gone wrong or something more evil.

This time, justice was served and the judge sentenced LaPlante to three life sentences. Good call, Judge!

Despite the fact this seriously disturbed man will never breathe free air again, I can’t imagine Annie Andrews is able to crawl into bed at night, knowing the monsters on TV are little more than figments of a writer’s imagination. She knows monsters are real. And sometimes, they live in the walls of your home.

Author Interview and Giveaway- Tom Threadgill

I’m so excited to introduce you to my friend Tom Threadgill! He’s authored the Jeremy Winter trilogy and, most recently, Collision of Lies. All four ebooks will be up for grabs, but I’ll get to that part later. Hope you enjoy reading Tom’s responses to my questions as much as I did.

1. Are any events/people in Collision of Lies or the Jeremy Winter series based on reality, or is it pure imagination?

When I look back on the Winter series, I can see a lot of myself in the main character, particularly as far as his opinions and sarcasm. I didn’t plan that, but I think it’s impossible to write without including part of yourself in there somewhere. A lot of the banter in the story is typical of conversations my wife and I have. Oh, and Maggie’s penchant for mangling idioms is based loosely on my wife. “Loosely.”

2. Have you visited any of the locations in your books?

I have, but not specifically for research purposes. West Tennessee, St. Louis, and San Antonio are all on that list.

3. Who was your favorite character to write and why?

I enjoyed writing Amara in Collision of Lies a lot, but I think my favorite was the Medical Examiner, Douglas Pritchard. I still haven’t figured out what the deal is with that guy. I love his quirks but not sure I could ever tolerate being around him for long. He’s kind of a combination of Monk, House, and Quincy (you youngsters will need to look that one up).

4. Did you have to edit any fun scenes from Collision of Lies before publication?

Not really. Collision is my fourth novel and I’ve pretty much learned when something isn’t going to work. If I can’t figure out a way for the scene to move the plot forward, it won’t be in there. Plus, my first drafts are almost always way shorter than the final manuscript, so there’s not a lot to cut. I prefer to flesh out the story in the edits rather than fret about what needs to go.

5. Do you hide secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

Nah. I mean, there may be inside jokes that only certain friends or family will recognize, but nothing earth-shattering. I did have several readers comment about a cameo in Collision that they enjoyed, but that’s not really a secret.

6. One of your characters in Collision of Lies is a Downton Abbey buff. Did you watch the series for research, and if so, did you love it?

I do research a lot of things in my stories, but I have my limits. That said, I have been exposed to second-hand Downton Abbey (which I believe the Surgeon General has issued a warning about) because my wife loved it. But I had to Google the information on the show’s scenes that are mentioned in my novel.

7. How long on average does it take you to write a book?

About a year, although the sequel to Collision is taking a lot longer due to life getting in the way. My goal for 2020 was to finish the sequel as well as another novel before the year ended. Not sure I’m going to make it.

8. Do you personally eat Cheetos with chopstick or know someone who does?

I’m way too uncoordinated to use chopsticks and I’m not a fan of Cheetos. Cool concept though, right?

9. What are your five favorite movies and why?

That’s such a hard question because I tend to have favorite scenes rather than movies. Like Infinity War when Thor shows up in Wakanda or the final battle in Endgame (the unforced parts of it). I do like all the John Wick movies and most of the Jason Bourne ones too. The LOTR movies are good (skip the blasphemy that is The Hobbit), but can be quite slow in parts.

10. When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Ah, the old “what did you want to be” question. I’ll give the same answer I always do. When I was a kid, I wanted to be an adult. Now I want to be a kid again. 😊

11. Which of your characters do you most relate to?

I think it’s still Jeremy Winter. There’s a lot of his character still to be explored if I ever decide to go back there.

12. How long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

None. I don’t plot at all. I work out the first chapter from whatever idea I’m using and go from there. All research is done during the writing phase.

13. Is there anything you would like to say to your readers and fans?

Please leave reviews when you read books! It helps authors in lots of ways. And writing can be lonely, so don’t be afraid to fire off an email to your favorite writer and let them know you enjoy their work. Nothing brightens our day/week/month more!

Thank you all for joining me as I interviewed one of my favorite authors! Now to sweeten the pot. On March 1st, I will be drawing names, and one lucky winner will receive all three Jeremy Winter books and Collision of Lies in ebook format. I’m sure you’re dying to know how to enter, and it’s simple. Just comment below and tell me why you love reading suspense. Be sure to include your email address so I can contact you if your name is drawn.

Be sure to subscribe, since I’ll be conducting giveaways every month, and I’d hate you to miss anything!