Here’s another round of great suspense. I may be stretching what some would consider red, but these books all rest at the top of my list. Hope you enjoy them as much as I did.
3.Loves Music, Loves to Dance by Mary Higgins Clark
Even though this book was written in 1991 and there are a few pop culture references that show it’s age, Loves Music, Loves to Dance kept me turning pages late into the night. Talking about it makes me want to read it again.
2. Chasing the White Lion by James Hannibal
In keeping with The Gryphon Heist from last week’s post, this list would be sorely lacking if I failed to mention Chasing the White Lion. So far, this book is the one to beat of all my 2020 suspense reads so far. I got so attached to the character that I wanted to start over as soon as I read the last sentence.
The King by Steven James
Have you ever read anything by Steven James? If not, you totally should. Patrick Bowers and Tessa are two amazing characters that will stick with you for the long haul. The heart-pounding suspense in this series and this book in particular are off the charts!
This is the last installment of Murder at 30,000 Feet! Hard to believe ten weeks have flown by so quickly (pun completely intended.) Next week I’ll hold the drawing for the $50 Amazon Gift Card. Anyone who leaves a comment on all 10 posts will have a chance to win. 🙂
As the plane begins it’s descent, you grab the seat back to steady yourself. A hollow ding sounds over the speakers, and the ‘fasten seat belt’ light flickers on. You meet Mara’s gaze and her brows raise. She’ll never admit to anything. Durland–if that’s even his real name– doesn’t look too forthcoming either with the firm set to his jaw and the steely determination in his eyes.
Maybe Claire Wilson’s social media page wasn’t taken down after her death. Would there be pictures of Mara? Maybe even her brother, Sam? You open your Banter app and search Claire’s name. Bingo! The page is active.
You scroll past a series of posts left by friends and family who mourned her loss and reminisced over happy times they’d shared. Finally, the photos. You thumb through the gallery and stop. There’s Mara. Her arm draped around Claire’s shoulders as the pair stood in front of what looked like a view of the Rocky Mountains. Family vacation, perhaps?
In the next picture, a familiar face joins the pair. You look up and lock eyes with Mashal Durland, who, according to the photo tag, is Claire’s brother Sam Collison. He looks away. Even if Durland–or Collison, rather–tries to smooth-talk his way out of this predicament, he can’t explain away the fact that he is on the same plane with the corpse of the man who most likely murdered his sister.
“This wasn’t the way to handle it.” You lower your phone, shaking your head. “There are laws to–“
“They failed.” Sam runs splayed fingers through his hair. “That monster killed my sister, and got away with it. There was no justice.”
“But you murdered him, and that wasn’t the answer.” Maybe it felt like Jeff Archer had gotten everything he deserved. But murder was always wrong. Your ears pop as the lights lining the runway come into view through the oblong window to your left.
“It wasn’t me.” Sam shakes his head. “I’ll admit, I’ve been tracking him for months. And I knew he’d be on this flight. He’s been tailing Angie. I had to keep an eye on her. Make sure she didn’t end up like Claire. But I didn’t cut that monster’s throat. I was just as shocked to see that dead body as you were, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t happy about it.”
“Why impersonate an officer?” It doesn’t make sense.
“I’d have killed him. Planned to, but someone already finished the job.” He chews the inside of his lip. “The cop act would have been a cover. A way to get off the plane quickly.” He shrugs. “If I had a killer to return to Australia for extradition, they’d let me through, no questions asked.”
“Why should I believe you didn’t do it?”
“If you knew him like I do, you’d realize that I’m not the only one with a vendetta.”
You cut a glance at Mara, but she’s shaking her head. A smirk plays across her lips. Then she glances to something or someone behind you. You look over your shoulder.
Jessica is standing at the emergency exit, hand on the handle. The passengers who had occupied that row run to the back of the plane, shouting, fear lines their faces. Is she crazy? Opening the emergency exit with the plane still in motion could be dangerous, even if you aren’t at cruising altitude.
“Jessica, don’t. Running will only make things worse.” You take a step toward her. Probably not the best idea, but if someone doesn’t diffuse the situation, there might be consequences.
“He killed my sister.” Her knuckles whiten as she grips the handle. “He can’t get away with it. But I can’t spend the rest of my life in jail.” She swallows hard. “I need to help people. To do some good. And ridding the world of that evil man is just the first step.”
The wheels bounce off the runway. You grasp the seat back beside you. “Did you know he’d be on this flight?”
Jessica’s eyes dart to Sam and Mara. She squares her shoulders and yanks the handle. The emergency door flies open, and passengers’ screams punctuate the air. The sudden rush of humid air sucks at your clothing, pulling you toward the opening.
The flight attendant jumps onto the inflated slide and slips down. You cling to the seat, watching her descent. With the airplane still taxiing down the paved strip, the slide flails and pivots, sending Jessica flying through the air. She misses the safety of the cushion, and lands on the pavement. with a sickening thud.
How could she survive such a jarring fall?
The plane stops.
You run to the exit and peer outside, praying the scene won’t be as awful as you imagine. Maybe Jessica will brush herself off and run toward wherever to escape the consequences for her actions.
But her body lays in a mangled heap on the pavement. A dark stain spreads beneath her head. You look away, gut twisting.
Melani Hyatt screams then buries her face in her husband’s chest.
Angie Garrett hold her son close, facing him away from the grisly image that would probably scar his mind forever. Tears streak her cheeks.
Mara and Sam sit in their seats. Mouths agape and eyes glassy.
Griz bows his head. Perhaps honoring her with a moment of silence.
Flashing lights and wailing sirens drown the sobs in the fuselage. Medics rush toward Jessica’s form. One kneels beside her, places his hand on her neck, then shakes his head.
The pilot calls for the passengers to disembark. As if in a trance, the men an women pressing against the emergency exit scatter. Overhead bins click open and shut behind you, but you’re frozen in place.
Such a waste. It’s a blessing Jeff Archer can’t hurt anyone else, but you hate yourself for thinking so. You swallow past the dryness in your throat. Did Jessica really plan this alone? Sure she had motive, but it seems like too elaborate a plot for her to construct single-handed.
You turn, scanning the empty seats. Alone. They’re all gone. Back to their business as if nothing happened at all.
You grab your carry-on and walk the jetway into the airport. Men, women, and children bustle around you as if life hasn’t changed. As if Jessica didn’t jump to her death before your eyes. Somehow, everything feels surreal, like you’re floating through a dream.
Angela and Devon stand near the McDonald’s in the terminal. She has an arm draped around him as he licks at an ice cream cone. Griz stands beside her and rests a hand on her shoulder. Something between them feels familiar. How do they know each other? Mara and Sam join them, faces wreathed in smiles.
Sam glances your way. His grin widens, and he lifts his index finger to his lips.
Your heart plummets into your gut. Jessica didn’t act alone, but how can you ever hope to prove it?
I hadn’t planned on such an unsatisfying ending, so I hope you don’t black-ball me for it. As I was writing, the cut and dried ending I had planned just felt too much like cardboard. This is what came to me organically.
This has been a fun and challenging journey for me, and I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.
Would you like to do another? Is there a particular setting you’d like to see? Drop your ideas below, and I’ll do my best to make them come alive!
As I mentioned above, I’ll draw for the $50 Amazon Gift Card winner next week and post it here. Thanks for keeping with me. I appreciate each on of you!
I’m so excited to have my lovely friend, Shaen here for an interview! She’s one of the sweetest, most encouraging people I know, and her cozy mysteries are amazing! Seriously, check them out. You’ll thank me later. 🙂
After the interview, I’ll give you a few ways to connect with Shaen and purchase her upcoming release. There may or may not be a drawing for one of her mysteries down there too.
We’ve all had funny experiences, and that’s no different for a writer. What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever had happen to you as a writer?
I don’t know if this one is funny, or just a near miss! Last summer, I was asked to take part in a suspense anthology with quite a few well-known authors. I was the new kid on the block and had never written suspense before. Needless to say, I was a little intimidated. I went over my story with a fine tooth comb, yet the day before I was supposed to submit it, I realized that one of the other author’s stories featured a main character with the same name as one of mine. I felt like I needed to change it so there wouldn’t be any overlap, and in my panic to find the right name, I ended up mistakenly changing my villain’s name to my editor’s! Luckily, I caught my slip up right before I was sending the email to my editor and changed it again. I can only imagine he wouldn’t have appreciated me immortalizing him as a killer in my story, after all his hard work beating my manuscript into submission, lol!
Oh, my goodness! Keeping fictional characters names from being offensive to a friend or acquaintance can get a bit hairy sometimes. Do you have any quirky writing habits?
Kind of? This is just something I’ve started doing recently, but painted fingernails help me be more productive! Seriously, I know you’re laughing, but for me, it’s the equivalent of Jo (from Little Women) and her askew writing cap. I can look down and see my hands on the keyboard and just feel more professional and put together.
Maybe my chipped nail polish explains my writer’s block. Need to paint my nails tonight. In the Bible, do you have a “life verse” that’s significant to you? Do you find yourself exploring this theme often in your work?
I do! Like a lot of authors, I write about what I’m trying to learn myself, and a verse I often explore, over and over again, from different angles, is Romans 8:28… “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.”
In Waves of Doubt, Priscilla has to learn to trust God’s plans and stop doubting His prompting. In A Slowly Developing Story, as a mystery falls together at a frustratingly slow pace, Elizabeth learns to rest in God’s provision. In Bird’s Eye View (my most recent cozy mystery release from Guideposts), Martha discovers her impatience and desire to control her situation don’t serve her well. It’s only when she lets go and submits to God’s overarching plan for her life that the mystery falls into place. I hope everyone who reads my books can take comfort in that truth: God is good and in control, even when things look like they’re falling apart.
In the times we’re in, it’s a comfort to know that God’s in control. That’s one of my favorite themes to read, for sure. Which part of the book creation process do you like best– brainstorming, writing, editing, marketing?
This is going to sound bad coming from a writer, but I actually enjoy the marketing part most! Is that a shocker? Let me clarify by saying that, of course, I enjoy the other parts of the process, too– I wouldn’t be a writer if I didn’t like writing! But crafting the actual book is often an arduous process for me. I’m super detail oriented and have to fight tooth and nail with my tendency to over-work a document. Marketing doesn’t have the same pressure associated with it… I guess it’s like birthing a baby versus sending out birth announcements!
Interesting! But it makes sense. How do you think your writing style has changed over the years?
Hmm, this is an interesting question… I think I’ve found my unique writing voice more as I’ve gotten older, probably because I’ve gotten to know my own self better. My natural voice (which I sometimes adapt based on the genre in which I’m writing) is very focused on crafting beautiful language– a holdover from my days writing poetry in college. When I was younger, I didn’t cultivate this part of my style as much, but now, it’s the part of writing that brings me the most joy 😊
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions and giving us a peek into your process!
Here is the blurb for Shaen’s upcoming release.
Silent Night, Deadly Night. Welcome to a Killer Christmas!
Danger and suspense await you this Christmas season in Mistletoe and Murder: A Christmas Suspense Collection featuring 10 individual novellas of suspense from some of today’s most talented Christian Suspense authors.
Come with us on a heart-racing journey through the holidays as USA Today, Christian Booksellers Association, and ECPA Bestselling authors Mary Alford, Adam Blumer, Liz Bradford, Vicki Hinze, Shaen Layle, Loree Lough, Nancy Mehl, Cara Putman, Lynn Shannon, and Virginia Vaughan, weave tales of suspense that will have you flipping pages well into the new year.
I’m a USA Today Bestselling author who writes inspirational cozy mystery from my home in the Midwest, where I live with my artist husband, Danny, and our two rambunctious, but adorable, little boys. Trained as a literary novelist and with a decade of librarianship under my belt, I love discussing all things bookish with my readers on my website and on social media.
I want to give one of you lucky duckies a copy of A Slowly Developing Story. It’s a fabulous cozy mystery that I’m sure you’ll love! Comment below to be entered in the drawing. I’ll contact the winner on September 10th.
“I don’t have to explain anything.” The marshal crosses his arms and sinks into his seat beside Mara. “You’re looking for someone to blame. No matter what I say, you’re ready to believe I’m guilty.”
He’s right. Suspicion has clouded your vision. Best to keep looking for Sam Collison, since Archer implicated him. You pull out your phone. There must be some way to learn the identity of Sam Collison. After opening your Banter app, you type ‘Sam Collison’ into the search bar. Three pages of search results populate. How will you ever narrow that down?
An idea picks at your brain like buzzards on a fresh carcass. Claire Wilson and Jessica’s sister Tawny were married to the same man, now both are dead. There has to be a deeper connection there. It was too circumstantial these two women should be on the same plane.
You turn to the flight attendant. “Jessica. Was your sister’s husband ever charged with her murder? Did the case go to trial?”
“There was a bail hearing.” Her jaw hardened. “But the DA dropped the charges when he found out the evidence was obtained by unlawful seizure. Without being able to use the evidence against Rick, there was no chance at a conviction anyway.”
And Claire Wilson’s killer was still free, no evidence linked anyone to her crime scene. But Angie had witnessed an argument between her husband and Claire. How did that compute? What if the man who had been married to both Tawny and Claire was involved with Angie as well?
“Angie.” You glance over your shoulder. The dark-haired woman steps into the aisle and moves toward you, Devon close behind her. She meets Mara’s gaze, bites her lip, and looks at the floor. “What did your husband do for a living?”
“He was in sales.” Her answer is clipped.
“Did he travel for work?”
What are the odds all these domestic violence cases are tied to the man lying dead on the restroom floor? But the women tied to these abusive relationships were all married to men with different names. How could–
You scan the flight manifest until your gaze snags on the name ‘Jeff Archer.’ His seat is J3. When you find the his assigned seat number, you pop open the overhead bin. You pull out a black backpack. “Does this belong to anyone here?”
A teenage boy claims it.
Next, you drag out a gray duffel. When you ask who it belongs to, the passengers in row J shake their heads. You pull the zipper. Just a bunch of socks, a few pair of underwear, and–it can’t be. A stack of passports are shoved in and inside pocket. You flip through them. Some contain unfamiliar names, others names you recognize. But the photo is the same in each, and all the pictures match the face of the dead man in the bathroom. You stack the known names into a pile. Jeff Archer, Rick Brandt, Frank Wilson had to be Claire Wilson’s husband, and Roger Garrett must be Angie’s.
The victim had at least five identities besides these. Did each come with a different wife? A fresh story of abuse? Your skin crawls. As much harm as this man has caused, maybe he got what he deserved. The justice system clearly wasn’t adequate to stop his hidden lives, to protect the women and children he was hurting.
You pull out your phone to search the names you don’t recognize. With so much commonality among the passengers, surely there must be a way to narrow down the suspects. Jeff Archer–or whoever he was–had murdered Clair Wilson and Jessica Carmichael’s sister. He had beaten both Angie Garrett and her son. Mara had mentioned killing a man after something she’d witnessed him do. You meet the convicts gaze across the aisle. She lifts her chin and raises a brow. Didn’t all that happen before the flight? Why else would she be in shackles, awaiting trial in Australia?
Unless, it was all a lie. What if Durland wasn’t a real marshal? What if the law officer/criminal relationship between him and Mara was just a ruse to keep them from being implicated in Archer’s murder?
When you open your Safari tab, your last search for Claire Wilson comes up. Her obituary sits at the top of the list. You click it and scan the text for the names of her next of kin.
“…she is survived by her mother, Mara Lynch and her brother, Sam Collison.”
Clue #8 Jeff Archer has many identities. He was married to Claire Wilson, Jessica’s sister Tawny, and Angie Garrett.
Clue #9 The convict, Mara Lynch, is Claire Wilson’s mother.
Next week all the secrets will come to light. Who do you think killed the man in the airplane bathroom?
Not sure about you, but I love a movie that leaves me guessing until the end. Here are my three favorites. Do any of these make your list of top picks?
I realize this is one of those movies you either love or hate. There is no middle ground. And many people think it’s too complicated. Well, I for one love the complexity of dreams within dreams. Even the ending with the spinning top leaves room for questions to arise.
2. Knives Out
With the mansion and house guests, this is like a modernized Clue. The story is so well-done that I was drowning in it before I knew what was happening. Yes, even though I thought I knew exactly what was going on the entire time. (I didn’t) The only thing I’d change if I could would be making Daniel Craig stick with his British accent. The Foghorn Leghorn voice doesn’t suit him at all.
Wait Until Dark
I’m going with a classic for my top pick. Audrey Hepburn does a stellar job playing a blind woman terrorized by drug traffickers. I literally screamed at a scene toward the end. If you haven’t seen this gem, I highly recommend!
What are your favorites? Maybe I’ll find some new titles to add to my list.
As much as I love me some Criminal Minds, there are a few other television shows with detectives I love. Some a little more comical than the straight-faced Aaron Hotchner, but still a blast to watch. Hey, we can’t all be simultaneously stone-faced and amazing. And P.S. the male main character in my trilogy was definitely patterned after Hotch. Here’s my personal list of favorite television detectives.
3. Patrick Jane- The Mentalist
This man can sniff out a lie a thousand miles away, and it’s a treat to watch him in action. “Being sorry is a far worse punishment than being dead. Everybody dies. Very few people ever feel truly sorry for the bad things they’ve done.” -Patrick Jane
2. Columbo- Columbo
He’s literally the most frumpy, unassuming detective of all time. But he notices things that the garden variety detective misses. It’s safe to say he annoys suspects into confessing. “Just one more thing.” -Columbo
Adrian Monk- Monk
Not only is Adrian Monk obsessive in the extreme, he has a tragic backstory that made me want to give him a hug (which he would have hated, by the way) and root for him as he sought justice for his wife’s murder. He’s the perfect blend of aggravating and lovable. “It’s a gift, and a curse.” -Adrian Monk
There are so many other television detectives out there that I’m sure I missed your favorite. Drop your top picks in the comments below!
You step into the restroom. The sight of the body on the floor turns your stomach. What could you possibly find that Marshal Durland didn’t notice. He’s the professional, after all.
The marshal hands you a pair of latex gloves, and you stretch them on. Carefully, so as not to contaminate the scene, you check the breast pocket of Archer’s suit coat. The gash on his neck has stained the material, but you shove that nasty detail into a mental box for later processing.
Nothing in the pocket. You check his pants. At first his pockets feel empty, but a folded slip of paper grazes your fingers. You pull it out and smooth the creases.
You scan the sheet. What on earth?
“It’s his will.” You glance up at the marshal then read Archer’s final wishes aloud.
“If you’re reading this, my lies have finally caught up with me, and he decided to hold me accountable. I’d like my assets to be divided evenly between my children. Their names and addresses are locked in the safe at my house in Bakersfield. Each of my wives can have the houses where they currently live.
All I ask of the person who finds my body is to have the police check into Sam Collison. He’s threatened me many times, and I wouldn’t put it past him to make good on his threats.”
Jeff had signed and dated at the bottom of the page. According to the date, he’d penned these requests just last week.
“Is there a passenger on the plane named Sam Collison?” You hand the document to the marshal.
A line forms between his brows. “Not sure. But we haven’t talked to everyone yet.”
“I think Sam’s the man we should be looking for.”
Clue #5 Jeff Archer’s will implicates Sam Collison.
Thank you all for joining me for week six! Do you think they’ll find Sam on the plane?
In case you hadn’t figured it out yet, I’m a huge Criminal Minds fan. The show is amazing on so many levels. One thing I love about it is the way they delve into what makes the murderers tick. Some of the UNSUBs have left a permanent imprint on my mind for one reason or another. Here are my top three.
3. The Inbred- Blood Relations
As far as I know, the inbred is the only UNSUB on Criminal Minds that never had a name. That in itself sets him apart. But at the end of the episode, he escapes and kills a couple in a cabin. They never return to this storyline, so we can only assume he’s still at large in TV Land. Yikes!
2. Billy Flynn- Our Darkest Hour
First off, those teeth make my want to floss immediately. Also, I don’t look at people who own campers the way I used to. They really are homicide vans on wheels.
Floyd Feylinn Ferell- Lucky
The cannibal on this episode gave me the creepy crawlies for days. And that smile when the truth came out was chilling. Would not want to run into a guy like him … ever.
It was beyond difficult narrowing this down to three (four if you count the honorable mention.) Which UNSUBs stand out to you?
Also, now that Criminal Minds is over, do you have any recommendations for comparable shows to take its place?
You and Marshal Durland step away from the woman in the sun hat. Why didn’t she consider taking the silly thing off when there wasn’t a sunbeam in sight and the brim kept whacking people in the face? It doesn’t make sense, but the way this trip is going, it’s par for the course.
“That got us nothing.” The marshal massages the back of his neck.
“Let’s talk to Trey and Melani.” You shrug. “Maybe they can shine a little light on the situation.”
You start toward the pair of lovebirds. Melani boops Trey on the nose, and he grabs her finger and kisses it.
Your stomach threatens to toss the hoagie you had in the airport terminal. This should be a real treat.
Marshal Durland rolls his shoulders until they pop. “Got a minute to answer some questions?”
“Sure.” Trey nods. “Anything we can do to help.”
“I don’t know how much help we can be.” Melani tilts her chin. “We were here in our seats the whole time.”
“Did you notice anyone head toward the back of the plane after the murdered man?” the marshal asks.
“We didn’t see anyone get up.” Trey glances at Melani. “Did we babe?”
If that were true, how did Jeff Archer get to the restroom unnoticed? You glance at the rows behind the couple. Both Jeff and the killer must have been sitting behind Trey and Melani.
The marshal presses on in his questioning, but your mind wanders.
What if Jessica had something to do with the killing? Something in your gut tells you that the flight attendant and Angie Garret are connected. Both women have ties to Claire Wilson from the photograph the victim carried. Both had a history with domestic violence of some form or other.
Jessica had access to the entire airplane. Had she been accounted for the whole trip up to the point of discovering Jeff Archer?
There were three rows of passengers left to question, then Mara and the cowboy. But Griz had been sitting next to you, sound asleep. And in those handcuffs, Mara couldn’t be stealthy if she tried. Not to mention the fact, she was under the marshal’s thumb until he dropped her off with the authorities in Sydney.
Was it possible Archer had been killed before boarding? Marshal Durland said the body was still warm when he investigated. How long did bodies stay warm?
You pull out your phone and enter the question in your Safari app. Hopefully, Homeland Security doesn’t flag you or put you on a list for such a suspicious question.
The answer appears on your screen. Twelve hours for a body to turn completely cool to the touch. And you’d been in the air two hours before finding him. Technically, he could have died hours before take-off. Your shoulders droop. But if that’s true, the killer could be long gone.
You mind replays the image of Jeff Archer’s body and the gash across his throat. It wouldn’t have taken long to cut and run. You cringe probably not the best terminology. Had Griz been in your row before you boarded? You think back. Yes. He was already seated when you stuffed your carry-on in the overhead bin.
Had he seen something?
Had he done something?
“Anything else?” Trey rubs his hands on his cargo shorts.
The marshals brows raise as he shakes his head. “That should be it.”
The couple ease into their seats, unbothered by the close quarters.
“You sure spaced out there for a minute.” The marshal slides his notebook back into his pocket.
“Did I miss anything important?”
“Not a blessed thing.” The marshal puffs out a sigh. “Get any bright ideas while you were out in la-la land?”
“You know, dead bodies don’t go cold for twelve hours. The murder may have happened before boarding. We should check the restroom again. See if the lock on the door was tampered with. Something. There has to be a clue we’re missing.”
“Worth a shot.” Marshal Durland unfastens the top button of his shirt. And you head for the back of the plane and the compartment housing Jeff Archer’s body.
Clue #3 If the murderer is on the airplane, he or she would be sitting behind Trey andMelani, but the time frame just got wider.
Thanks for sticking with me! Stay tuned for another installment next Friday!