The Tainted Vintage by Clare Blanchard: A Promising Introduction to a series about crime fighting in the Czech Republic


The Tainted VintageThe Tainted Vintage

by Clare Blanchard
Series: Dvorska & Dambersky, #1

Kindle Edition, 159 pg.
Fahrenheit Press, 2018
Read: September 11, 2018

In the first chapter, we’re treated to a better synopsis than I could cook up, so let me just borrow it. One night in the little town of Vinice, in the Czech Republic, the mayor dies during his birthday party:

Dvorska was sure that she and Ivan had been sent there for the sake of appearances, because a dead mayor was by definition high profile, and of course because no-one else wanted to touch it. She wondered why they had been called out at all, so soon. The fat feminist and the misogynist – what a team. And of course Dambo, as the senior of the two, would call the shots, so her hands would be tied. Perfect. The sudden death of a rich and powerful local figure was hardly a magnet for rising-star detectives.

Dvorska picks up a clue or two that convinces her — and then Dambersky — that this death was not due to natural causes. The Powers That Be don’t want to hear such a thing, and rule otherwise. So this very unlikely duo has to embark on an unauthorized investigation — not just unauthorized, but prohibited — into the murder.

Finding the murderer of a man who died of natural causes isn’t the easiest thing to accomplish, obviously — it’s hard to ask too many questions without a “Hey, he wasn’t murdered, why are you asking?” coming up. So the partners have to be wily — not just with their superior officer, but with witnesses, possible suspects, and everyone else they encounter.

The investigation takes them to various cities, a variety of social classes, and even ends up giving them a few history lessons. The mayor’s home has ties to significant (at least to Vinice) historical movements, going back to World War II, the Communist takeover, and then once the Republic took over. This really helps the reader — particularly the reader who knows almost nothing about the Czech Republic — find themselves, not only in the geography but the history (cultural and otherwise). obviously, I’m no expert on the Czech Republic,, but I can understand a little more than I used to. Just the first couple of usages of “Perv” to indicate an illegal drug threw me — but between the narrator finally calling it Pervityn and a search engine, I got a little lesson in drugs during WWII.

It doesn’t take long for the book to try to get the reader on the side of these two characters — maybe there’s more to them than the “fat feminist and the misogynist.” I really found myself enjoying them as people, not just as detectives. We spend — for reasons that will become clear when you read this — more time with Dvorska than her partner, and she is a charming, dedicated detective, fully aware of her limitations and sure how to overcome them.

The writing was good but I thought it could be sharper — there’s an odd word choice or two (early on, the detectives start talking about the mayor’s death being an execution, not a murder); there’s a lot of recapping/rehashing something that was just done/considered/decided a page or two earlier — the kind of thing that makes sense for serialized novels, but this doesn’t appear to be on. Still, the voice is engaging, as is the story — and you get caught up enough in it that you can easily ignore a few things that’d normally bug you.

I was caught totally off-guard by the ending. I didn’t expect that to happen at all — my notes toward the end feature short words like “what” and”why?” But primarily my notes consist of question marks, exclamation points, and combinations thereof. This is a great sign for mystery and thriller novels. Blanchard did a great job setting things up so that there’s a dramatic reveal and one that isn’t seen chapters away. I do think some more ground work could have been laid early on so that it didn’t seem quite so out of nowhere. But it was effective enough, that I really don’t want to complain about it.

This is a pleasant read — it’s close enough to being a cozy that I could recommend it to friends who predominately read those, and twisted enough that those with more grizzled tastes can sink their teeth into it, too. The characters are winning, charming and the kind that you want to spend time with. It’s a good introduction to a series exotic enough for most English readers to feel “alien” and yet full of enough things so you don’t feel cut off from what you know. There are obviously future cases for these two in the works, and I plan on getting my hands on them when I can.

—–

3 Stars

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BOOK SPOTLIGHT: The Tainted Vintage by Clare Blanchard

Today I welcome the Book Tour for The Tainted Vintage by Clare Blanchard, which adds a little international flavor to my typical fare. Along with this spotlight post, I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit.

Book Details:

Book Title: The Tainted Vintage by Clare Blanchard
Publisher: Fahrenheit Press
Release date: July 7, 2018
Format: Paperback/ebook
Length: 159 pages

Book Blurb:

In the small Czech town of Vinice the mayor has been found dead in his wine cellar.

Detectives Jana Dvorska and Ivan Dambersky are called to the scene and soon realise that despite appearances, Mayor Slansky’s death was most definitely not from natural causes.

Almost immediately, the close-knit community closes ranks to try and brush the unexplained death under the carpet with the minimum of fuss.

Dvorska & Dambersky are drawn deeper and deeper into secrets that many hoped would remain buried forever and they’re forced into pursuing an investigation where their own lives are put in danger.

The Tainted Vintage is the first book in a wonderful new series set in and around The Czech Republic, an area rich in history, literature and culture that still remains largely unexplored by contemporary crime fiction fans.

About Clare Blanchard:

Clare BlanchardOriginally from the North Yorkshire coast in England, Clare Blanchard spent half her lifetime in the Czech Republic, where her books are mainly set. Inspired by Nordic noir, where the settings are often like another character in the plot, she writes crime mysteries and other fiction, usually with a historical twist. She loves beautiful landscapes and architecture, cross-country skiing, the wine of South Moravia, and of course Czech beer. When she’s not being literary she knits funky socks.

Clare Blanchard’s Social Media Links:
Twitter: https://twitter.com/CBcrime
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ClareBlanchardBooks/
Website: https://www.clareblanchard.com/
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=dp_byline_sr_ebooks_1?ie=UTF8&text=Clare+Blanchard&search-alias=digital-text&field-author=Clare+Blanchard&sort=relevancerank

Purchase Links for The Tainted Vintage:
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tainted-Vintage-Dvorska-Dambersky-Book-ebook/dp/B07FC1MM58/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1534608727&sr=1-1
Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Tainted-Vintage-Dvorska-Dambersky-Book-ebook/dp/B07FC1MM58/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1534608804&sr=8-1&keywords=the+tainted+vintage
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/search?Query=the+tainted+vintage
Nook: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-tainted-vintage-clare-blanchard/1125886642?ean=2940154344606
Fahrenheit Press” http://www.fahrenheit-press.com/books_the_tainted_vintage.html


My thanks to damppebbles blog tours for the invitation to participate in this tour and the materials they provided.

BOOK SPOTLIGHT: Dear Mr Pop Star by Derek & Dave Philpott

Today we welcome the Book Tour for the almost indescribable Dear Mr Pop Star by Derek & Dave Philpott — hopefully that “almost” is accurate, or I’m going to have trouble when it comes to my post about it (as if being one of this massive group isn’t bad enough — seriously, check out that graphic!). Along with this spotlight post, I have a Q&A about the book, and then I’ll be giving my take on the novel here in a bit. (those links’ll work once the posts are live)

(click to embiggen)

Book Details:

Book Title: Dear Mr Pop Star by Derek & Dave Philpott
Publisher: Unbound
Release date: September 20, 2018
Format: Hardcover/ebook
Length: 416 pages

Book Description:

“If you don’t like this book, then you’re no friend of mine.” Ivan Doroschuk, Men Without Hats

A collection of hilarious letters to iconic pop and rock stars with fantastic in-on-the-joke replies from the artists themselves: Eurythmics, Heaven 17, Deep Purple, Devo, Dr. Hook and many, many more…

For more than a decade, Derek Philpott and his son, Dave, have been writing deliberately deranged letters to pop stars from the 1960s to the 90s to take issue with the lyrics of some of their best-known songs. They miss the point as often as they hit it.

But then, to their great surprise, the pop stars started writing back…

Dear Mr Pop Star contains 100 of Derek and Dave’s greatest hits, including correspondence with Katrina and the Waves, Tears for Fears, Squeeze, The Housemartins, Suzi Quatro, Devo, Deep Purple, Nik Kershaw, T’Pau, Human League, Eurythmics, Wang Chung, EMF, Mott the Hoople, Heaven 17, Jesus Jones, Johnny Hates Jazz, Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, Chesney Hawkes and many, many more.

About the Authors:

Derek and Dave Philpott are the noms de plume of two ordinary members of the public, working with help from a worldwide social networking community.

For More Information:

Goodreads ~ Unbound ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

The Cleansweep Counterstrike by Chuck Waldron: An entertaining thriller follow-up that almost lives up to its predecessor.

The Cleansweep CounterstrikeThe Cleansweep Counterstrike

by Chuck Waldron
Series: Matt Tremain Technothriller, #2

eARC, 312 pg.
Bublish, 2018

Read: August 7, 2018


Let me preface all this by saying that I enjoyed The Cleansweep Counterstrike, I thought it was a fun return to the characters of the first book. I had some problems with it — that weren’t so bad that they kept me from enjoying this book, but they diminished my appreciation. I do talk about them below, and to adequately express them takes some space — so much so that it dominates my post. This isn’t because I didn’t like the book — it’s just that I wanted to be sure I explained my thinking. So I’m stressing at the outset — I recommend this book, I liked it and I think that other readers will, too.

Ahab had his whale, Coyote has his Road Runner and Charles Claussen has Matt Tremain (and the others that helped him out in The Cleansweep Conspiracy). Claussen lost a lot — not just in terms of influence of money, either — when Tremain’s investigations helped bring his Cleansweep project down. Now on the run from his former bank-rollers and trying to keep under the radar of law enforcement, Claussen risks everything to get his revenge.

Tremain and his friends have moved on in their lives and careers — but you get the impression that they haven’t stopped looking over their shoulder for something to come at them for their role in Cleansweeps failure — not just Claussen, either. He may have been the front man, but no one thinks that he’s the only one that might bear a grudge.

After he gets his revenge, Claussen does plan on trying to get some mercy from his benefactors — and maybe see if he can demonstrate that Cleansweep can work in another country. But first things first.

I am so glad that Waldron took this approach to things — I went in apprehensive that this would be Conspiracy Redux — somehow the people behind Claussen were trying it in a new city/country (or worse, they were trying again in Toronoto under a different name) and that Tremain and company had taken it upon themselves to head off to the new location to do the same thing they’d done at home. I just wasn’t ready for the tortured logic that would make it possible. Instead, it’s all about the fallout from Conspiracy — good and bad for all involved, and all parties trying to go on with their lives, obsessions, and whatnot. Everyone except Claussen, that is. He’s still stuck in the moment, making him the proverbial fly in the ointment for everyone.

Like in Conspiracy, there’s some issues with time — how much time went by before Claussen starts his efforts at revenge, how long before Tremain and Carling go hunting for Claussen, for example — there’s a couple other spoiler-y items that I’m confused on the timing about, too. Yes, Waldron gives plenty of clues about the time, but some of them are pretty vague and some of them come so late into the game that by the time he says anything about it, it’s too late and the reader is already a bit muddled on details. That could just be me, but I don’t think so. On the flip side, there’s some things in Tremain’s personal life that move so quickly (I think) that they’re hard to believe. The key there is to not fight it, not insist that everything’s crystal clear — and the book will sweep you up in the hunt and you’ll stop caring. And, when it comes to the things that are important — he doesn’t miss a step. It’s only in the setup, the subplots, the background, etc. that things get muddled.

Once Claussen starts to move in and really gets the four worried about what he’s up to and what might happen to them, the book comes together and all the little quibbles vanish. There’s danger afoot, hazards everywhere and they all will have to be ready to adapt to any strange circumstance if they’re going to get out of this alive and intact.

We spent plenty of time with Claussen in Conspiracy — and we get even more here. Early on, almost every line of dialogue, every thought of his that’s recorded is as diabolically evil as it could be — which made it so hard to swallow. But after a while, that goes away. And you can almost reach the point where you want to see Claussen escape a little longer so that when he does come for Tremain, the whole thing will be a tinge more exciting.

My main problem with this novel is that we don’t get nearly enough time with Tremain and his allies — so much of that part of the story feels rushed and under-cooked. I’d like more time with Carling, Remy and Susan. Yes, Tremain is the focus — and should be — but we get almost nothing about the other three when they’re not playing backup to Tremain. Carling is the most neglected (which I don’t think will be a problem in the next book), keeping him the one I want to learn most about — Tremain’s Russian hacker benefactor would be a close second.

Angela Vaughn, Claussen’s former security chief, was one of the highlights of Conspiracy for me — and she has a great moment or two here. But sadly, just a moment or two. I’m glad that Waldron brought her back for this book, I just wish he’d done more with her.

The criminals and mercenaries that Claussen surrounds himself with and/or is surrounded with (it’s a fine, but important, distinction you can learn about yourself) aren’t as compelling. Those that are competent vacillate between almost too capable to believe and have they ever done anything more complicated than hold up a liquor store?

Conspiracy felt plausible, maybe some of it was a stretch, but it still struck me as something not too far-fetched, and the stakes felt real. On the whole, Counterstrike is probably closer to plausible, but the stakes didn’t — maybe because it felt so unlikely that someone like Claussen could be so focused on his revenge — so short-sighted about the dangers inherent in pursuing it (from the government, his backers, other enemies he’s made). But it’s that Ahab-like focus that drives the novel, so you have to accept it. Once you do — the rest is easy to buy into.

Once again, this novel is close to be a great thriller, but it misses by an inch or two on many fronts — some are minor quibbles, some are more than that — but you get enough of those and it’s hard to be enthusiastic about the book as you could’ve been. Maybe I’m wrong, but it feels like this is a draft or two away from being at that point (would a Toronto police detective call the FBI “the Feds”?). For every thing that I grumbled about above (or put in my notes and didn’t bring up because I was starting to feel like I was being negative), Waldron nails 3-4 other things. The story is there, I simply don’t think that Waldron told it as effectively as he could’ve.

I don’t want this post to come across as negative, I’m just underwhelmed. I enjoyed it — I don’t think it’s as good as Conspiracy, but it’s a worthwhile continuation, and should make the reader keen to get their hands on Book 3. Given where Waldron leaves things, it has the makings of a pretty strong installment.

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for my honest thoughts.

—–

3 Stars

A Few More Quick Questions With…Chuck Waldron

Here’s Part 2 of the Book Tour stop for The Cleansweep Counterstrike — a follow-up to the Q & A from last time.

Could you tell us a little about your “path to publication”? What got you into writing and what did you do to take it from an aspiration to a reality?
It started innocently enough when I joined a class on writing short stories. Years of professional writing was transformed into story-telling. Fifty-five short stories later I went back to my first short story, wondering if I could turn it into a novel. Now, working on novel number six, the journey continues. I’m a proud indie author and haven’t looked back.
Back when we talked about The CleanSweep Conspiracy, you said, “I like Matt Tremain, the protagonist in The CleanSweep Conspiracy. He just might hang around for another story.” Of all the various things you could’ve done with Matt — what was it about the premise for Counterstrike that made you say, “That’s the one”?
Matt’s story wasn’t finished. He still had his evil nemesis lurking, waiting to do Matt harm. I decided to follow Charles Claussen after his escape and weave his story of revenge with Matt’s desire to be left in peace. Matt, realizing that “peace” wasn’t going to happen as long as Claussen was in the picture, had to act. That’s when I knew, “that’s the one.”
thing they did in the prior book, or conversely, something they said in a “throwaway line” in the first b
For me, it was trying to walk a tightrope. How could I create a stand-alone book in the sequel and yet have it be part of a continuing story? I already knew my main characters and how they acted, but how to keep their voices fresh. Stieg Larsson did it brilliantly in his series, setting a high standard.
We seemed to spend plenty of time with Charles Claussen in this volume (not that we didn’t in the preceding one), seeing things from his point of view — what’s the hardest part of writing him?
For me, creating villains has always meant digging into some dark corners of my imagination. In just about every way Claussen represents my polar opposite. I chose to create a composite of evil people I know. The hardest part writing him was to give his character something likable.
I’ve often heard that writers (or artists in general) will forget hundreds of positive reviews but always remember the negative — what’s the worst thing that someone’s said about one of your books, and has it altered your approach to future books?
I wrote a quirky fantasy Remington and the Mysterious Fedora. From all the words, a reader chose a paragraph that had some mild sexual context. She said, “I can’t believe this book. It’s not about a hat or a typewriter. It’s about sex.” It’s my only one-star review. I don’t see that as a demand bid to change my writing.
Is there a book 3 in the works, or is this the end of the road (at least for those that survive)?
This hint is the sample chapter of book three at the end of The Cleansweep Counterstrike. There’s still enough conspiracy theories to go around.
Thanks for your time, and I hope The Cleansweep Counterstrike is met with plenty of success!
Thanks for having me, and your good wishes.

BOOK BLITZ: Shadow Games by Jim Lester

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Coming of Age
Date Published: June 2018
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Danny McCall loves basketball more than anything in the world. So why would he risk his basketball scholarship, the love of his life and his entire future to fix the point spread in a series of college basketball games?
Set in the early 1990s, Shadow Games is an exciting page-turner, filled with fast-paced hoops action. A topical novel for readers of all ages, the book is a powerful portrayal of the loss of youthful innocence.


About the Author

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Jim Lester is the author of three successful young adult novels: Fallout, The Great Pretender and Till the Rivers All Run Dry. He has a Ph.d in history and is the author of a non-fiction book entitled Hoop Crazy: College Basketball in the 1950s.
Contact Links
Purchase Link

 

 

 

 

RABT Book Tours & PR

BOOK BLITZ: The Deadliest Fever by June Trop

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A Miriam Bat Isaac Mystery in Ancient Alexandria
Historical Mystery
Date Published: April 2018
Publisher: Black Opal Books
 
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Miriam bat Isaac, a budding alchemist and amateur sleuth in first-century CE Alexandria, is concerned when she learns that the threads of gold in the Great Synagogue’s Torah mantle have been damaged. She takes the mantle to Judah, a renowned jeweler and the unrequited love of her life. He repairs the threads and assures her that the stones in the mantle are still genuine. Like Miriam, he is astonished that someone would damage the threads but leave the gems behind.
Shortly before, the Jewish community of Alexandria welcomed their visiting sage and his family, who had just arrived from Ephesus on the Thalia. Also on the ship were the perpetrators of an audacious jewelry heist. And shortly after, the captain of the Thalia is found dead in a sleazy waterfront inn.
Can Miriam discover the connections among the jewel heist, the death of the sea captain, and the desecration of the Torah mantle before the deadliest fever claims its victim? Not without help from the bite of a rabid bat.
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Other Books in the Miriam bat Isaac Mysteries in Ancient Alexandria Mystery Series:
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The Deadliest Lie

A Miriam bat Isaac Mysteries in Ancient Alexandria, Book One
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Published: October 2013
She’s a brilliant alchemist-with a talent for solving mysteries.
Miriam bat Isaac is a budding scholar in first-century CE Alexandria, though her dreams seem doomed. Who in her household or among her father’s Shabbat guests stole the scrolls containing the Alchemical League’s valuable formulas? Perhaps the thief was even her frantic father, on the cusp of financial ruin, eager for Miriam to end her dalliance with a handsome jeweler and marry into an honorable and wealthy family. Or her rebellious brother, intent on raising money to travel to Capua so he can enroll in the Roman Empire’s most renowned gladiator school. Or her faint-hearted fiancé, who begrudges her preoccupation with alchemy and yearns for their forthcoming marriage?
And how did the thief manage to steal them? Miriam is not only faced with a baffling puzzle, but, to recover the scrolls, she must stalk the culprit through the sinister alleys of Alexandria’s claustrophobic underbelly. The Romans who keep a harsh watch over her Jewish community are trouble enough.
Miriam is based on the true personage of Maria Hebrea, the legendary founder of Western alchemy, who developed the concepts and apparatus alchemists and chemists would use for 1500 years.
June Trop (Zuckerman) has had over forty years of experience as an award-winning teacher and educator. Now associate professor emerita at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she spends her time breathlessly following her intrepid protagonist, Miriam bat Isaac, who is back in the underbelly of Alexandria, once again searching for a murderer in The Deadliest Sport while worrying about her brother.
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The Deadliest Hate

A Miriam bat Isaac Mysteries in Ancient Alexandria, Book Two
Publisher: Bell Bridge Books
Published: October 2015
The Roman Empire may be the least of her enemies.
A secret alchemical recipe to transmute copper into gold surfaces in first-century CE Caesarea. As soon as Miriam sets out to trace the leak, Judean terrorists target her for assassination. Eluding the assassins while protecting a secret of her own, she discovers that she, herself, is responsible for the leak. Moreover she is powerless to stop its spread throughout the Empire and beyond.
But who is really trying to kill Miriam? Is it a case of mistaken identity, or is her late-fiancé’s ex-scribe, now an assistant to the Procurator of Judea, seeking to avenge an old grudge? Or is her heartthrob’s half-brother, a Judean patriot who inherited his mother’s mania, afraid Miriam knows too much?
And how did the recipe find its way from Alexandria to Caesarea anyway?
June Trop (Zuckerman) has had over forty years of experience as an award-winning teacher and educator. Now associate professor emerita at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she spends her time breathlessly following her intrepid protagonist, Miriam bat Isaac, who is back in the underbelly of Alexandria, once again searching for a murderer in The Deadliest Sport while worrying about her brother.
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The Deadliest Sport

A Miriam bat Isaac Mysteries in Ancient Alexandria, Book Three

Publisher: Black Opal Books
Published: October 2017
Miriam bat Isaac, a budding alchemist in first-century CE Alexandria, welcomes her twin brother Binyamin home to fight his last gladiatorial bout in Alexandria. But when he demands his share of the family money so he can build a school for gladiators in Alexandria, Miriam explains that he forsook his share when he took the gladiatorial oath. When she refuses to loan him the money for what she feels is a shady, and dangerous, enterprise, Binyamin becomes furious. Soon after, the will of Amram, Miriam’s elderly charge, turns up missing, Amram becomes seriously ill, and the clerk of the public records house is murdered. Could Binyamin really be behind this monstrous scheme? If not he, who could be responsible? And is Miriam slated to be the next victim?
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 Excerpt
May 1, Thursday, Almost Midnight:
He waited, listening to the darkness flow into the sanctuary. With the thick drapes blocking the flare of torches lining the Canopic Way, the only light scratching the air was the meager glow of the eternal flame, the ner tamid of Alexandria’s Great Synagogue.
The coolness of the night had already begun to assert itself. Just a little longer, he told himself as his fist closed around the open edges of his long black robe. A few minutes later, as his other hand pulled back the hood over his head, he emerged from his hiding place, his body taut, his legs tingling from having stood in place for so long.
Stretching his cramped muscles, he approached the front of the Torah Ark. His fingers trembled with excitement, his eyes shining with greed as he drew open the parokhet, the curtain that screened the Ark.
“Like a bride’s veil,” he said to himself, amused by the analogy.
With a self-congratulatory nod and a tight satisfied smile, he pulled open the ornate bronze doors and carried the Torah to the Reader’s Table. For a few moments, he gazed at the coveted prize adorning the Torah mantle, three peerless jewels, each set into the bowl of one of the three vessels embroidered in gold on the mantle.
He didn’t need much light. His eyes were already accustomed to the darkness, and his hands had performed this procedure many times before. Taking a few deep breaths to calm the twitch at the corner of his mouth, he removed a slim wooden box from the goatskin pouch attached to his belt, took out his tools, and lined them up on the table: his silver pick, plyers, tweezers, snips, and a double-handled vial of olive oil. Then he undressed the Torah and positioned the mantle so the jewels caught the narrow strip of light from the ner tamid.
Oh, Lord! Even in the thinnest light, they spew out their fire!
Half-frightened, worried that he’d uttered the words aloud, he released only a feather of breath.
But hearing no echo, his jaw softened.
He was safe.
Then, hunching over the table, balancing his forearms against the edge, he took hold of the pick and laid his hands on the mantle.
He tried to loosen the center stone, the emerald. The setting was tight. Very tight. He tried again, this time after placing a droplet of oil on each prong.
This is going to take a while.
He shifted his weight and continued.
The silence was absolute save for the occasional sputter of the ner tamid and the distant rumble of hooves on the Canopic Way’s granite pavement.
Until he heard loudening footfalls ringing out against the tessellated floor, waking the echoes in the corridor’s coffered ceiling.
A crease of light swept under the sanctuary’s ceiling-high, bejeweled double doors.
He froze and held his breath, as fear prickled down his spine, until the clicking heels receded into the silence. He blinked slowly and released an unbidden sigh. Just the watchman on his rounds. He won’t come in here. He locked the doors to the sanctuary and all the outside doors to the Synagogue hours ago and won’t open them again until dawn.
His fingers worked through the night. Despite the chill, rivulets of sweat trickled down his back and collected under his belt. He straightened up now and then, rolled his shoulders back, and cocked his head as he admired his work.
His mouth curved into a triumphant smile.
Beads of saliva clung to his lips.
By now a pearly grayness was seeping under the doors. He could see the darkness dissolving. Objects in the sanctuary were reclaiming their color and shape.
He mentally ticked off the remaining tasks: Dress the Torah. Put it back in the Ark. Tuck my prize and the tools into the box. Slide it back into my pouch. Slip out as soon as the watchman unlocks the doors but before what’s-his-name…Gershon, that’s it, Gershon ben Israel…comes in to check the sacred—
Oh, Lord, what on Earth is that squeaking sound? Surely not a bird.
A sharp-toothed, leathery-winged bat shot out of nowhere, swooped across the sanctuary, and, wheeling around the bemah, took a dive, and nipped the crown of the man’s head before disappearing with a shrill screech behind the Ark.
His thin howl—part gasp, scream, and strangled sob—tore through the sanctuary.
Then he heard a pair of boots smacking the tiles.
I gotta get out of here! Where’s the—
Dressing it quickly, he shoved the Torah into the Ark, throwing everything else into his pouch.
Except the vial.
The vial. Oops!
Oil everywhere.
Oh, Lord! Not now.
A hasty wipe with the sleeve of his robe.
The rising volume of hammering footsteps.
Now two sets—one close, the other farther away but catching up. Their volume swelled as they turned a corner.
Must be Gershon trailing the watchman.
The jangle of keys. The ping of the latch as the watchman unlocked the doors.
No place to hide. And, Lord, all this blood gushing from my head.
“No, Daniel, no!” Gershon shouted. “The other way. Hurry! The scream came from the library.”
About the Author

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June Trop and her twin sister Gail wrote their first story, “The Steam Shavel [sic],” when they were six years old growing up in rural New Jersey. They sold it to their brother Everett for two cents.
“I don’t remember how I spent my share,” June says. “You could buy a fistful of candy for a penny in those days, but ever since then, I wanted to be a writer.”
As an award-winning middle school science teacher, June used storytelling to capture her students’ imagination and interest in scientific concepts. Years later as a professor of teacher education, she focused her research on the practical knowledge teachers construct and communicate through storytelling. Her first book, From Lesson Plans to Power Struggles (Corwin Press, 2009), is based on the stories new teachers told about their first classroom experiences.
Now associate professor emerita at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she devotes her time to writing The Miriam bat Isaac Mystery Series. Her heroine is based on the personage of Maria Hebrea, the legendary founder of Western alchemy, who developed the concepts and apparatus alchemists and chemists would use for 1500 years.
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