Tag Archives: Jess Lourey

Double-Booked Blog Tour with Shannon Baker and Jess Lourey – Part II

Hi Dru Ann and all you LOVElies (see what I did there?).

Thanks for letting me (Shannon Baker) and Jess Lourey share a little taste of our characters’ days. Jess and I are globetrotting with our second Lourey/Baker Double Booked Blog Tour and we wouldn’t travel a mile without stopping at Dru Ann’s.

Jess’s newest in the laugh-out-loud Murder by the Month mystery, March of Crime, launched in September and my next Kate Fox mystery, Dark Signal, is slated for October 17th. (Pre-order!) Forge is releasing a .99 Kate Fox short story September 17th, but at the time of this writing, I don’t have a link, so I’ll put it in the comments. So here’s some Mira James (from Jess) and Kate Fox (from Shannon) playing dueling dumba**es. Who wins?

KATE FOX:
I shuffled the sheriff department budget worksheet pages for the billionth time. I’d calculated and recalculated and concluded I could afford a new computer to replace the antique on my desk that was as big as a two-ton boulder and about as efficient. Done with that chore, I checked email, picked up my pencil, dropped it on the desk and took the ponytail elastic from my hair. Put it back in my hair and grasped the pencil again.

When the phone rang, I nearly shouted for joy. Anything to break the monotony. “Sheriff.”

Marybeth, dispatcher extraordinaire, spoke in staccato. “Nine-one-one call from First National. Sounds like attempted robbery in progress.”

Holy moly. A real crime in Grand County. It took me less than five minutes to run from the courthouse to the bank.

Skeeter Duning stood on the polished pine floor, in the middle of the bank lobby. He held a gun like he might dangle a horse halter from his right hand. Faded jeans hung from skinny hips, greasy felt cowboy hat limp on his head, he looked like something from an Ace Reid comic.

Joanne, the gray-haired teller, stood behind the worn wood counter looking irritated. “He’s all yours, Kate.” Since this was a Tuesday afternoon, the branch manager would be in Broken Butte for the weekly regional meeting, leaving Joanne alone in the bank.

I kept my tone light. “Hey, Skeeter.”

His shoulders dropped even further and he didn’t raise his face to look at me.

I took slow steps his way, keeping my eyes on his gun. “Why don’t you take that pantyhose from your face and tell me what you’re up to.”

* * * * * * * * * *

MIRA JAMES:
“Convince people that Otter Tail County is safe.”

Shouldn’t have been too hard, what Ron Sims was asking. Otter Tail County was plop in the heart of gorgeous northern Minnesota. From the air, it appeared more lakes than land, a fistful of sapphires scattered across an emerald field. On the ground, at least in March, it smelled like melting snow and rich black dirt. Most residents didn’t lock their doors, and they’d be sure to stop and ask if you were okay if they happened upon you stalled on the side of the road. Five bucks at a local café bought you coffee, juice, bacon, toast, and eggs done any way. Kids sold lemonade on corners come summer, about the same time of the year as the turtle races started back up. Norman Rockwell surely had held the area gently in mind when he painted his folksy vision of America.

Convince people that Otter Tail County is safe.

Not only should Ron’s demand have been a slam dunk, as editor, owner, and publisher of the Battle Lake Recall, his request was reasonable. It’s not like he was, say, my gynecologist requesting that I spin a shiny PR web across a whole county. I’d written articles for his newspaper since I’d relocated to Battle Lake, Minnesota, one year ago this month.

But here’s the deal. I’d just found out that what I thought was a quiet restaurant patron sitting two stools down from me was actually a life-sized, realistic doll crafted by an elderly woman named Ida.

Battle Lake, right?

Still, I was considering his request when the restaurant’s door opened behind me.

Ron’s face dropped.

He was not happy to see who had just entered.

I swiveled to check it out.

And immediately regretted my decision.

* * * * * * * * * *

KATE FOX:
Skeeter’s sigh sounded like final surrender. He raised his gun hand and I closed my fingers on the handle of my Smith and Wesson.

Then I understood he wanted me to hold his revolver so he could lift his hat to peel off the pantyhose. I checked the cylinder. No bullets.

The bank’s phone rang and Joanne lifted her plucked eyebrows at me. “I’ve got to get that.”

I nodded and waited for Skeeter to mash his old hat back on his nearly bald head. I didn’t offer the gun back to him.

His chin sank to his chest. “Sorry to roust you from your business.”

I led him to the cracked leather couch under the front window and waited for him to sit. “I wasn’t busy. What’s going on?”

Sad eyes swam in his wrinkled face. “Welp, that ol’ caddy of Ava’s, you know the blue one?”

I knew. Skeeter saved for years to buy his wife that car. A ranch hand doesn’t earn much, so a Cadillac, even in the early 70’s would take a commitment.

Not sure I’d ever seen a face so sad. “Welp, the transmission went out. You know, Ava’s got the cancer, ain’t ’spose to last the year. She loves that car, calls it her baby. I just wanted to make sure she gets to ride in it until the end.”

Joanne mumbled into the phone and I hoped she wasn’t starting the rumor race about Skeeter.

* * * * * * * * * *

MIRA JAMES:
Battle Lake’s Mayor Kennie Rogers, she of the country-music name and the death-metal soul, famous far and wide for her thick make-up, outrageous clothing, questionable politics, fake southern accent, and far-fetched business ventures, was striding into the Stew. Today she appeared to be sporting an ensemble from the Ride Me Barbie collection, starting with a tiny plastic cowboy hat nestled in her crunchy platinum beehive and plastic Barbie boot earrings dangling from her lobes. The accessories would be ridiculous if they didn’t so beautifully accent her sheepskin coat and over a Western snap-front red shirt—currently more front than snap what with her ample bosoms pushing toward the light—and jeans so tight that her camel toe had spawned fingers. Bright pink stiletto cowboy boots finished off the outfit.

Whoo-boy. My roller coaster morning was taking another screeching dip.

It wasn’t her outfit, which I had to admire for its sheer commitment to a single message. Nope. It was that Kennie was one of those people who made your life harder simply by occupying the same space as you. In a special twist of fate, something about me intensified her life-hardening superpower. She sought me out like it was her job, always wanting to involve me in her money-making schemes, either as a customer or a partner.

Before you say “that doesn’t sound so bad,” here’s a sampling of the businesses: a reused marital aid company called “Come Again”; coffin tables (place your coffee cups on it now and your body in it later!); a home bikini waxing service; and her most recent, sales of a raspberry-flavored hair tonic that rumor had it was actually a veterinary-class sedative that caused baldness. I didn’t want to stick around to find out what was up next.

* * * * * * * * * *

KATE FOX:
I wanted to pat Skeeter’s hand or give him a hug, but I’m sheriff and that didn’t seem appropriate. “You know you can’t rob the bank to pay for your car repair.”

He slumped against the couch. “I couldn’t see no other way.” Ranch jobs didn’t offer 401k’s or pension packages. Skeeter and Ava would be getting by on social security. Proud as the old cowboy was, he wouldn’t allow anyone to have a benefit pancake feed or even a collection can set out at the Conoco.

Joanne hung up and watched us from behind her counter. I couldn’t read her expression.

I thought of my budget, the new computer I wouldn’t be getting next year. “It happens I’ve got some odd jobs that need taken care of around the courthouse. If you’d be willing to help me out for a week or so, I’d be grateful.”

Skeeter didn’t move for a few seconds, then he sat up straighter. “I guess I could see my way free to do that.”

I reached out to shake his hand.

His grip was firm and when he let go he smiled, showing the gap where the mama cow had kicked out a tooth. “Can I have my gun back?”

I stood and we walked out together. “I’ll hang on to it for a while.”

I love Grand County and I’m settling into my new job, but I’d bet a rhubarb pie (I hate rhubarb) that no other county has weirder crimes.

* * * * * * * * * *

MIRA JAMES:
I waved at Ron, who was still regarding Kennie like a child watches an incoming spoonful of cough syrup, pitching my voice low so as not to draw Kennie’s attention. “Thanks for the coffee, Ron, but I need to head out.”

Kennie hadn’t noticed us in the rear of the restaurant yet. She was working the crowd near the front door. I’d never been more grateful for the Turtle Stew’s side entrance. I could sneak out unseen! I turned toward the rear exit, a satisfied smile pinching my cheeks. Dang if I wasn’t going to salvage this morning.

“Mira James!”

Kennie’s southern-tinged yell drew the attention of the handful of patrons who hadn’t yet noticed her Western-themed resplendency. I shrank into myself, tossing all my eggs into the “she can’t see me if I don’t look at her” basket.

“Stay where you are, honey!” she continued. “I have a proposition for you.”

My stomach dropped below Battle Lake’s water table. I spun on my heels, committed to sprinting if need be. Unfortunately, I turned so fast that I collided with the nightmarish doll. Ida’s freakshow toppled toward the floor.

“I’m so sorry!” I hollered at the world, watching the crapfest play out in slow motion. My physical reflexes kicked in almost as soon as my apologetic ones, and I dove toward the doll, trying to catch it before it fell. I slipped a hand under it a nanosecond before it hit the floor. My plan was to keep it from smacking in case there were any breakable parts. Instead, surprised by the weight and density of the doll, I found myself falling along with the human puppet.

Something primal recoiled as I plummeted with the doll, a sickly-sweet smell causing my flight response to kick in, though I was off balance and powerless to flee. The doll hit first, with the weight and slap of a side of frozen beef. I tumbled on top immediately after, knocking her akimbo in my effort to not land directly on her.

The doll’s hat and wig went flying, and the coffee cup she’d been holding crashed to the floor. After a collective gasp, the restaurant went deathly silent, everyone watching me scramble to balance myself and fix this mess.

Something was shrieking at me to run, something dark and terrible and slimy, but the terror was so great, so enormous, that it couldn’t get ahead of my mouth, which was still trying to negotiate the social faux pas of tumbling the life-sized doll. “Don’t worry! I’ll put her back just like I found her!”

I gathered the wig and hat, planning to slam them back onto the doll and hoist her back onto the stool before the other patrons had a chance to process what was happening. That’s when the terror caught up to me, silencing me, crashing me finally, fully into the moment.

My slack-jawed horror was reflected in the faces of every person in that restaurant.

They were staring at the doll, their mouths agape.

I followed their horrified gazes.

The only sound I could make was a greenish oof as my heart plummeted.

What had been sitting on that stool all morning wasn’t a doll at all.

When she’d tumbled to the ground, her China doll mask had slipped enough to reveal gray human flesh underneath the macabre porcelain.

I saw a hand reach forward to remove the mask. When the cold porcelain shocked my system, I became aware that the hand was mine, and it was working without my permission. A gentle tug, and the mask was free.

Underneath was a human corpse, female, her icy cold death stare pointed at the drop ceiling, her mouth in a tight angry rictus as if she’d died yodeling.

The mask dropped from my numb hands, crashing to the ground and shattering into white and red shards.

That’s when the screaming started.


We are each giving away three books on the Lourey/Baker Double-Booked Tour. For every comment you make along our tour stop, you’ll get another entry in the contest. Don’t be shy; we love talking to you.

September 2 – Mysterious Musings
September 5 – Janice Hardy
September 7 – The Creative Penn
September 9 – Write to Done
September 12 – Wicked Cozy Writers
September 20 – Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blog
September 21 – There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room
September 23 – Femmes Fatales
September 24 – Writer Unboxed
September 25 – Dru’s Book Musings
September 27 – Do Some Damage
October 3 – Terry Ambrose
October 12 – Jungle Red Writers

About the authors
Shannon Baker is the author of the Kate Fox mystery series (Tor/Forge). Set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills, Kirkus says, “Baker serves up a ballsy heroine, a colorful backdrop, and a surprising ending.” She also writes the Nora Abbott mystery series (Midnight Ink), featuring Hopi Indian mysticism and environmental issues. Shannon makes her home in Tucson where she enjoys cocktails by the pool, breathtaking sunsets, a crazy Weimeraner, and killing people (in the pages of her books). She was voted Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s 2014 and 2017 Writer of the Year. Visit Shannon at www.Shannon-Baker.com.

Jess Lourey (rhymes with “dowry”) is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing “a splendid mix of humor and suspense.” She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft’s Excellence in Teaching fellowship, a regular Psychology Today blogger, and a sought-after workshop leader and keynote speaker who delivered the 2016 “Rewrite Your Life” TEDx Talk. March of Crime, the 11th book in her humorous mystery series, releases September 2017. You can find out more at www.jessicalourey.com.

All comments are welcomed.

My Musing ~ Salem’s Cipher by Jess Lourey

Salem’s Cipher by Jess Lourey is the first book in the NEW “Witch Hunter” thriller series. Publisher: Midnight Ink, September 2016

Salem's Cipher A troubled codebreaker faces an epic plot reaching back through centuries of America’s secret history

Salem Wiley is a genius cryptanalyst, courted by the world’s top security agencies ever since making a breakthrough discovery in her field of quantum computing. She’s also an agoraphobe, shackled to a narrow routine by her fear of public places. When her mother’s disappearance is linked to a plot to assassinate the country’s first viable female presidential candidate, Salem finds herself both target and detective in a modern-day witch hunt. Drawn into a labyrinth of messages encrypted by Emily Dickinson and centuries-old codes tucked inside the Beale Cipher, Salem begins to uncover the truth: an ancient and ruthless group is hell-bent on ruling the world, and only a select group of women stands in its way.

I’ve read the author’s “Murder by Month” mystery series and enjoyed it tremendously, but this new series, knocks it out of the ballpark by delivering a fast-paced and action-packed thriller that doesn’t let up from the first page to its conclusion. The drama contained in the narrative of this riveting drama grabbed my attention immediately and kept me glued to the pages as I had to know how this will end and boy was I transfixed by all that was happening. The dangerous exploits surround our heroine everywhere she went and it was her dogged pursuit and determination that propel this intensifying, hold-your-breath story forward and I applaud the author on a job well done.

Double-Booked Blog Tour with Jess Lourey and Shannon Baker – Part I

stripped bareThis is IT!

The culmination of Shannon Baker and my 30-ish-day, 24-ish stop Double Booked blog tour. Woof. We are so tired that we have hired monkeys to type for us. Fortunately, they are smart monkeys and there is little typing involved here because all we need to do is sit back and watch as Kate Fox, star of Shannon Baker’s Stripped Bare (releases today!) and Salem Wiley, protagonist of Jess Lourey’s Salem’s Cipher (also releases today! Smell that hot ink), serendipitously meet across books, on an airplane headed to Virginia.

Salem's Cipher“I have to use the bathroom.”

The woman from Nebraska stood to let Salem pass. The red-eye flight Lu had booked for her was surprisingly full. The bathroom line was three deep. Salem was okay with that. It gave her time to uncramp her legs. She thought about all she had to do—land, rent a car, buy gear, follow the coordinates, crack Beale’s vault, fly back to San Francisco to hand over to Agent Stone what they’d found—and how little time she had to accomplish everything.

I settled back on the rough fabric and stared across the empty seat to clouds outside the window. Flying to Richmond was a fool’s errand if ever there was. I figured Carly would be long gone before I got there. Still I had to try.

I unclenched my fists and tried to relax. I wasn’t the only one with problems. The woman next to me seemed to be wrestling with her own. She’d given me a strained smile when I sat, even ventured a little conversation, but it felt like maybe she pushed herself into it, like she ought to. She told me her name and I was about to give her mine but the flight attendant piped up with his safety spiel before I got it out.

Funny name. Salem. She probably had a story, guess we all do. She didn’t seem interested in sharing and I didn’t feel inclined to get into my pile of woes with a stranger I’d never see again.

The man in front of Salem turned, smiled. He wore sunglasses. She didn’t smile back. Something about him made her uncomfortable. Was it his smell? But if he had an odor, it was too mild to pick out on the plane. His face appeared pleasant enough around the metal rims of the sunglasses. She didn’t recognize him. She looked away, but he didn’t.

“Been to Virginia before?” His voice rumbled just above a whisper. A couple sleeping in the seats next to him shifted, the woman pulling the thin airplane blanket closer to her.

Is he really picking me up on an airplane? Salem shook her head and looked away. She hoped he’d get the hint. Did it bother her that he was wearing sunglasses at night, in the air?

He nodded and turned back toward the bathroom door accordioning open. A woman squeezed out and another sardined in. The line was now down to two, plus Salem. The man in sunglasses returned his attention to her.

“Where in Richmond are you going?”

A whispering voice chilled me, even though I shouldn’t have heard it above the swirl of conversation and roar of the engine. I twisted to see Salem giving the stink-eye to a guy who looked as wrong as a badger in the chicken shed.

Salem felt trapped. She wanted to be polite, but his attention was making her uncomfortable. Her body language should have made that clear, but she gave it one more shot, shrugging by way of an answer.

The guy was a certifiable creep and Salem seemed shaky, but I hated to jump into the fray, like some Lone Ranger. Salem had given a clear signal for him to back off, so she’d be fine.

That must have registered loud and clear, finally, because he turned away from her. Thirty seconds later, though, he turned back, his lower lip trembling. “I’m just trying to make conversation, you know? I don’t know if you think you’re too good to talk to me, or what, but I think I deserve some decent human interaction here.”

First the sunglasses and the voice like a rattlesnake, now upping the sleaze factor. My gut tensed but, I held back. I didn’t even know Salem. She might be black belt for all I know. And I’m not in the saving game. Except for Carly. And any of my other brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, or just about anybody in the whole damned Sandhills. My list was long enough.

Every one of Salem’s fears came crowding back in. She felt terrible for making him feel bad. She opened her mouth to speak, but found the woman from Nebraska, a stranger she’d made only cursory conversation with, at her side.

With the list so long, what was one more. “All right, cowboy, why don’t you use the bathroom at the front of the plane?”

“It’s okay.”

Not okay, none of it. A five-hour drive to Denver to catch a flight in a desperate race to find Carly when I knew she was long gone. And then compensating by trying to rescue Salem. But it wouldn’t make me feel any better. I stared at Salem, asking her silently if she needed me.

“Really, it’s fine.” She appreciated the woman’s reaction, but she didn’t want a scene. She certainly didn’t want to make this man mad. They were going to be stuck on this plane together. “You can sit down. I’m okay. He’s going to leave me alone, and everything will be all right.”

The woman glanced at her, tossed an angry glare at the man, then nodded and shuffled back to her seat.

I slumped into my seat, my face burning. I had all the self-control of a six month old black lab. Too bad there were millions of ways to make a fool out of myself because I seemed determined to try them all.

Salem stopped herself short of apologizing to the man in sunglasses, just, and shoved her hands in her pockets. She wished she had a phone to look at.

The bathroom door opened again and places were traded. The man in sunglasses was next in line. Salem was glad she wouldn’t have to stand next to him much longer.

“You never said where in Richmond you were going,” he said, without turning.

Her breath caught. Really? She opened her mouth to say something to him directly then snapped it shut. The plane ride was almost over. She could keep her peace until they landed. Besides, the man wasn’t even looking at her.

That voice! He was at her again, like a dog after a bone. I tried not to listen.

Then he did. He turned. She saw her own face reflected in his lenses, upside down and tiny. “Northern Richmond is pretty this time of year. Are you visiting friends?”

She didn’t know what exactly it was about the interaction that dug up, dusted off, and pushed her fuck it button after all these years, and especially after the last five days. Maybe it was his simpering aggressiveness, his shaming of her for not doing his bidding, the way he’d ignored all of her nonverbals. Maybe it was that she realized she’d gone without Ativan for four days, and that she was surviving. Better than surviving. Probably accumulated stress had something to do with it, too, but suddenly, she found herself caring much more about her own comfort than his. “You’re being a dick.”

Something inside me busted, like a cinch that had been on too tight, and I took a breath like I hadn’t since I’d raced to Denver. Salem was taking control. She didn’t need me to protect her. Carly and Salem, two women who could take care of themselves. Without my help. Salem had asked me to back off, Carly had done the same. Mom would spout something about the universe giving me messages. Maybe I’d tell her about this bit of serendipity after I caught the first flight west.

He jerked as if she’d hit him. “What?”

“I clearly don’t want to talk to you, and you won’t let it go, so fuck you. Fuck you for thinking I have to speak with you because we’re both standing in line and fuck you for your creepy sunglasses on a plane. I will stand in this line until it’s my turn, I will not talk to you, and you will respect that.”

“Let ‘er buck,” I muttered just loud enough to be heard.

Salem realized her chest was moving up and down rapidly, her heart racing. She’d heard the Nebraska woman’s words, knew she wasn’t alone. She waited for the man to react. He opened and closed his mouth. Time unspooled at a snail’s pace. He finally responded, sort of. He pushed past her and returned to his seat four rows ahead of hers. She waited until the bathroom door opened, went in, and slid the lock closed.

She leaned against the bathroom door, laughing quietly.

There may have been tears mixed in.

I gave Salem a grin when she sat back down. We might only have an hour left of the flight, but I thought it might be enough time to share a story or two. “Kate Fox, Grand County Sheriff. I’m glad to meet you.”

Salem took it. “It’s been a heckuva week for me. You?”


Uff da, now I not only want to read Shannon’s new book, I want to write a book with her! Dang that woman can spin a story.

Thank you so much to Dru Ann for hosting us, for those of you who have followed us across this massive, cross-country blog tour, and for any of you who have stumbled in today. We are so happy to share the news of our simultaneous book release today here, on the blog of one of our dear friends and one of the mystery community’s biggest supporters.

In celebration and out of thanks to you all, I am giving away a copy of Salem’s Cipher and Shannon is giving away Stripped Bare. Tell us which two mystery protagonists you’d most like to have a chance meeting, or leave a comment for a chance to win. Shannon and I are also going to bring in award-winning and bestselling authors to join in on the conversation below, so keep checking back to see what’s up!

About the authors
Jessica (Jess) Lourey is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have JessLoureyearned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing “a splendid mix of humor and suspense.” She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft’s 2014 Excellence in Teaching fellowship, and leads interactive writing workshops all over the world. Salem’s Cipher, the first in her thrilling Witch Hunt Series, hits stores September 2016. You can find out more at www.jessicalourey.com, or check her out on Facebook or Twitter.

Shannon Baker writes the Kate Fox mystery series. Stripped Bare, the first in the series, features a ShannonBakersheriff in rural Nebraska and has been called Longmire meets The Good Wife. Baker also writes the Nora Abbott Mystery Series, a fast-paced mix of murder, environmental issues and Hopi Indians published by Midnight Ink. Baker was voted Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ 2104 Writer of the Year. She writes from the Colorado Rockies to the Nebraska Sandhills, the peaks of Flagstaff and the deserts of Tucson. Visit her at www.Shannon-Baker.com.

All comments are welcomed.

Giveaway: The giveaway will end September 8, 2016 at 12 AM EST and US entries only, please. Good luck everyone!

Murder by the Month with Mira James by Jess Lourey

February FeverThe upright bass strings resonated, the notes deep and husky. In the background, the finger-snapping began. Peggy Lee’s voice threaded over the top of the rhythm. It was playful, hot, and full of delicious promise. She was doing her best to convince me that I couldn’t possibly know the depths of her love, could never understand how much she cared.

Johnny noted my delighted expression when I placed the lyrics, and he smiled. He was standing over me, backlit by a crackling fire, naked from the waist up. His Levis hung low on his lean hips, and the shadows from the fire played off the soft curl of his blonde hair, the marble cut of his biceps, and the strength in his hands hanging loosely at his sides.

The chorus of the song scorched out of the speakers.

Fever.

Believe me, I felt the heat.

Johnny was love and rockets and romance and sweetness. We’d officially been a couple since December, not even two months, but we’d casually dated before that. That’s how I was gonna write the story, anyhow. Another person might interpret my “casual dating” as more like “neurotic dating,” with me constantly worrying what a great guy like Johnny was doing with someone like me, and subsequently doing everything I could to sabotage our budding relationship.

You see, I’m a little messed up.

I’m an only child, the daughter of an alcoholic who died driving drunk the summer before my junior year of high school. He’d killed someone else in the accident, and I became a pariah in my hometown of Paynesville, Minnesota. Come the end of my senior year, I was only too happy to skedaddle that wide spot on a map.

Ink not even dry on my high school diploma, I took off for the Cities. I did all right for a while. Earned my English degree from the University of Minnesota, waited tables at a Vietnamese restaurant on the West Bank, hit the bars but only on weekends. Eventually, I found myself attending more bars than classes, dating Bad Brad, and wondering if this was what my alcoholic dad’s life had looked like in his 20s. I didn’t like the direction—or lack thereof—in which I was headed.

A year ago last March, I received a shittily-wrapped gift when I caught Brad cheating on me, a few hours later, was flashed by a homeless man while crossing the Washington Avenue bridge. Nothing like stumbling across two unexpected penises in one day to crowbar you out of a rut, you know what I mean?

When my friend Sunny called soon after the doubleheader and asked me to take care of her dog and cute little prefab house on the most gorgeous 100 acres in all of Minnesota, I didn’t so much leap at the offer as trust-fall into it. The gig was only supposed to last March through August while Sunny explored Alaska with Dean, her unibrowed lover, but late last summer, the couple landed a year-round job on one of the fishing boats, and here I was, an unofficial Battle Lake resident for coming up on a year.

I imagine I’d have gotten into the small town rhythm sooner—I’d been born and raised in a little burg, after all—if it weren’t for the dead bodies popping up regularly. One corpse a month, every month since May, matter of fact.

A guy I had a crush on here, a statue thief there, and pretty soon, it added up to me stumbling over ten murders in as many months. I didn’t like to think about that record because when I did, I was inevitably brought to two conclusions: 1) I was jinxed with the mother of all cooties: dead-body finding, and 2) it had been twenty-three days since I’d skated over a frozen corpse on West Battle. I could almost hear the clock ticking down on February. When and where would the next murder be?


You can read more about Mira in February Fever, the 10th book in the “Murder-by-Month” mystery series, published by Midnight Ink. The first book in the series is May Day.

GIVEAWAY: Leave a comment by 6 p.m. eastern on February 16 for the chance to win a copy of FEBRUARY FEVER. Three lucky commenters will be randomly selected. The giveaway is open to U.S. residents only. Winners will be notified within 48 hours after giveaway closes.

About the author
The author of twelve novels and numerous short stories, Jess Lourey is best known for her jesscritically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter writing, “It’s not easy to make people laugh while they’re on the edge of their seats, but Lourey pulls it off…[A] very clever series.” Jessica is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology at a Minnesota college. You can find out more about Jessica and her books at www.jesslourey.com.

My Musing ~ February Fever by Jess Lourey

February FeverFebruary Fever by Jess Lourey is the 10th book in the “Murder-By-Month” mystery series.  Publisher: Midnight Ink

All Aboard the Murder Express

Mira James’s hot and heavy relationship with boyfriend Johnny Leeson is definitely warming up her winter. But when Johnny has to go to Portland, Oregon, for a month-longth internship, airplane-averse Mira lets her septuagenarian friend Mrs. Berns talk her into a visit. On the plus side, Mira can make the trip a tax write-off by attending the International Private Investigator Conference. On the down side, Mrs. Berns books them—much to Mira’s dismay—on the Valentine Train, a place for singles to meet and mingle.

After a few glasses of champagne and Mrs. Berns’ encouragement, Mira begins to relax and enjoy herself . . . until a fellow passenger is murdered and a snowstorm traps the train in the Rockies. If Mira can’t track down the killer, she may end up derailed—permanently.

This story touched me more than I can say. This mystery was expertly written with great depth and with such fever that I will always remember the emotional well-being of all those who crossed the path of Mira James and made a difference. Mira James truly discovered who she is and I hope she is proud of that person. I have to say I love Mrs. Berns who was a tremendous asset to the telling of this drama. A great job well done and this is by far the best book in this series.

January Thaw by Jess Lourey

january thawJanuary Thaw by Jess Lourey is the ninth book in the “Murder-By-Month” mystery series. Publisher: Midnight Ink, January 2014

Ice Man Succumbeth

Private-eye-in-training Mira James loves Minnesota’s crisp January days, as long as she can spend them in the arms of hunky Johnny Leeson. But when Mrs. Berns’s erratic Zamboni driving uncovers an icebound dead man, Mira’s cold-weather tranquility threatens to melt away.

With a frozen body in the lake and a freak January thaw descending on town, neither Johnny nor generous portions of high-octane comfort food are enough to ease Mira’s frazzled nerves. There’s big trouble brewing in Battle Lake. And if Mira can’t figure out who’s behind it, the next time she feels sub-zero temperatures, she may be sporting a toe tag in the town morgue.

I love it when I open a book and it immediately enraptures me and I can’t put it down. Mira is an emotional wreck having recently survived a recent ordeal. So of course, it happens once again with the discovery of another dead body, which is woven into a riveting and thrilling drama that had me holding my breath in this action-packed and fast-paced mystery.

Jess knows how to engage the reader with a great plot with multiple layers that may or may not connected (you’ll have to read the book if you want to know the answer) and a great cast of characters that includes Mira, the ever-present Mrs. Berns as well as Johnny and the other cast that crosses Mira’s path. The dialogue is exceptional and the setting gave me the feeling that I was standing in a cold January Minnesota. Once again, Jess entertained me with her written words and I look forward to visiting Mira and the gang in February Fever (don’t you just love that title?), the next book in this fabulous series.

A Conversation With Mira James by Jess Lourey

january thawA year ago, I moved from Minneapolis to Battle Lake, Minnesota, population 787 and dropping. Specifically, I’d developed a distasteful habit of discovering one corpse a month since arriving here in May. A lesser woman would think herself cursed. I’d been raised by a codependent mother eligible for sainthood and an alcoholic father who’d killed himself and the occupants of an oncoming car in a drunk driving accident while I was a sophomore in high school, and so I had a different perspective on life. I was, of all things, an optimist, though one who was always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

The inaugural dead body appeared about the time I landed my first job in town. Both the job and the corpse were located at the Battle Lake Public Library. When the head librarian disappeared shortly after the murder, I’d been promoted to fill in for him until someone qualified could be found. A budget cut plus the fact that I kept “losing” applications kept that possibility at bay. The most recent carcass had almost been mine. Three weeks ago, right around Christmas, a serial killer, nicknamed the Candy Cane Killer by the press, had hunted me like an animal, stalking close enough to leave scars that I’d carry for the rest of my life, inside and out. I hadn’t slept a full night since, though I refused to reveal that when anyone asked how I was. Admitting it out loud would make it too real. Besides, to whom could I confess that I’d started sleeping under my bed instead of on it—that every evening before I drifted off for an hour or two, my nose inches from the box springs, I wondered if I’d gone too far to ever feel safe again? And so I kept my mental state to myself, I worked, I laughed, I played, and I watched the shadows.

On a positive note, I’d discovered more about myself since moving here than I could have imagined. My drinking was mostly in check, I had begun to repair my relationship with my mom and make peace with the memory of my dad, I was pursuing my PI license based on the belief that the Universe was telling me it was that or become a mortician, and I’d even fallen in love with a guy who walked upright. His name was Johnny Leeson, and he was a horticulturalist and the lead singer for a local band.

Tall, with strong hands, a great smile, and wavy blonde hair, if he was food he’d be chocolate, and if he was drink, he’d be a rare red wine. I still didn’t entirely trust that somebody as amazing as him was all mine, but I was willing to work on it. We’d been dating exclusively, more or less, for a few months. We hadn’t put any official name to the relationship, but three weeks ago, we’d finally consummated our union. It was everything I’d imagined, except for the location: my childhood bedroom. He’d been busy since then starting the spring seedlings at the local nursery and playing gigs all over the Midwest with The Thumbs. Subsequently, we hadn’t gotten to repeat the glory we’d first discovered under the Jimmy Page and Leif Garrett posters my mom still kept up in my room, though we did have a date planned for tomorrow night.

“You’re thinking about Johnny now, aren’t you?” Mrs. Berns said, interrupting my thoughts for the second time. “You better not take up poker. You’re easier to read then a comic strip. With large print.”

I realized I’d been smiling as I walked through the fairy snow, and that made me beam even wider. “He’s pretty cute, isn’t he?”

“You could do worse.”

Like all native Minnesotans, I’d been born knowing that you should never allow yourself to be too happy, but if you accidentally did, you should definitely not tell anyone. It was akin to calling Bad Luck on the phone and inviting him over for coffee. Still, I couldn’t resist this single, tentative, hopeful response. “You know, I’ve got a good feeling about this month. January’s going to be the end of my one-body-a-month streak. I feel it in my bones.”

I was wrong. Soooo wrong. Skating-over-a-frozen-corpse-wrong. My name is Mira James. Welcome to my life.


January Thaw hits shelves on January 8, 2014

When Mira James moved to a small town in Minnesota, she thought she left muggings behind her . . . until she’s jumped by two men in an alley. A third man saves her, but for all his trouble he’s found frozen under an ice-covered lake.

Meanwhile, Mira’s job as a private eye in training has her tracking down the family that built the Prospect House, home of the town’s new museum. Discovering a letter that dates back to 1865, Mira finds herself embroiled in a cold case of treachery and a hot case of drug trafficking that puts the whole town in danger.

“…wry…delightfully eccentric. Readers of small-town mysteries will be charmed.”  –Publisher’s Weekly

GIVEAWAY: Comment on this post by noon EST on January 15, and you will be entered for a chance to win a copy of January Thaw. Three (3) lucky winners will be chosen at random. Unless specified, U.S. entries only.

Meet the author
Jess Lourey is the author of the Lefty-nominated Murder-by-Month mysteries set in Battle Lake, Minnesota, and jessfeaturing amateur sleuth, Mira James. In multiple starred reviews, Booklist says of the series, “”It’s not easy to make people laugh while they’re on the edge of their seats, but Lourey pulls it off! Get started on this Lefty-nominated mystery series immediately!” Jess has been teaching writing and sociology at the college level since 1998.

When not raising her wonderful kids, teaching, or writing, you can find her gardening, traveling, and navigating the niceties and meanities of small-town life. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and The Loft, and serves on the national board of Mystery Writers of America.

Visit Jess at www.jesslourey.com

December Dread by Jess Lourey

December Dread by Jess Lourey is the 8th book in the “Murder-By-Month” mystery series. Publisher: Midnight Ink, October 2012

Silent Night, Deadly Night

With Christmas just over a week away, ’tis the season for grinning sales elves on TV, maddeningly jolly Muzak, and a guilty Nut Goodie addiction. But for Mira James and other Battle Lake-area women, the holidays are marred by something far worse—a serial killer leaving candy canes as his calling card. His target? Thirty-something brunettes who look just like Mira. When a woman from her high school graduating class becomes his latest victim, Mira plows through a case of online dating turned deadly with Mrs. Berns at her side. Will she earn her detective stripes . . . or end up deader than the Ghost of Christmas Past?

With two weeks off from the library, Mira heads back home for the holidays, while a serial killer takes their next victim. Attending PI class and being inquisitive as she is, Mira begins her own investigation into the serial killer only to place herself into the killer’s path.

Even with threat of a hurricane, nothing could make me put this book down. The easy and steady flow of the written words enveloped me in this amazing whodunit. The frantic pace and suspenseful nature of this solid plot had me quickly turning the pages as I needed to know the identity of this monster as well. The teaming of Mira and Mrs. Berns creates our own modern day Sherlock and Holmes and I couldn’t be any happier to see this pair hunt down a killer with their wit in full motion. Going back to Mira’s childhood home serves as the backdrop to this wonderfully crafted story and it was fun to see the woman that the child has become. This is the best book yet in this terrific series and I can’t wait for January’s adventures.

Mrs. Berns’ Ponderings by Jess Lourey

May in Battle Lake is a beautiful time of the year. The new green of the leaves convinces people that maybe winter wasn’t really that bad, and the lilac blossoms perfume the air with a sweet purple honey. Why Mrs. Berns had allowed Pastor Winter to talk her into leaving all this beauty to head north to Bemidji, Minnesota, for the All Church weekend retreat was anyone’s guess. Well, really, it was her guess: she wanted a little action, and she’d already run through all the decent prospects in Battle Lake. With the motto, “You’re never too late for a coed slumber party” in the forefront of her mind, she’d boarded the orange school bus and headed upstate toward the land of Paul Bunyan.

The All Church weekend retreat had begun ten years ago, the idea being to bring together church-going Minnesotans of all denominations to celebrate faith and forge common ground. It being Minnesota, the retreat drew Presbyterians, Catholics, and Lutherans. Mrs. Berns could pick out a Presbyterian at 100 feet by the way the ladies clutched their purses. The Catholics were harder to identify as they went to great lengths, she thought, to blend in, but more often than not, they couldn’t leave the house without a cross around their neck and an apology on their lips, so they were easy to spot if you got close enough. The Lutherans, well, they were her people.

The first thing Mrs. Berns had noticed after dropping off her bags and upon entering the main hall of the retreat was that the gender ratio was 70/30 women to men, an imbalance she’d grown accustomed to in the last decade or so. It turns out that life is a race won by women, a fact that gave her the giggles every time she thought about it. The second thing she noticed was a ruckus up front. Never one to sit on the sidelines, she elbowed her way through the whispering crowd.

Her form-fitting, black t-shirt read “80 is the new 30.” She wore elastic-waisted pants, not because she was large but because at her age, every second counted. She was, in fact, a trim woman whose hair was currently the color of an overripe apricot, who couldn’t see past her nose without her thick-rimmed cat eye glasses, and who didn’t stay in the lines when she colored and so certainly wasn’t going to bother when she applied lipstick. She’d lived long enough to recognize that life was always good, even when it was bad. This is why she had a slight twinkle in her eye as she broke through the crowd and found what had them chattering like chickens: a dead body, face up. She kneeled next to the corpse in the bright light of the afternoon sunshine and uttered these three grim words:

“Clearly, it’s murder.”


You can read more about Mrs. Bern in December Dread, the eighth book in the “Murder-by-Month” mystery series. The first book in the series is May Day.

Meet the author
Jess Lourey is the author of The Toadhouse Trilogy: Book One, the first in a young adult series that celebrates the danger and excitement of reading. She also writes the critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month Mysteries for adults with a sense of humor. December Dread, the latest in the series, hits bookshelves the end of September 2012. She’s been teaching writing and sociology at the college level since 1998. When not gardening, writing, or hanging out with her wonderful kids and dorky dog, you can find her reading, watching SyFy-channel original movies, and dreaming big.

The “Mrs. Bern’s Ponderings” post is an excerpt from the short story, “Death by Potato Salad,” which can be found in the upcoming anthology The Minnesota Crime Wave Presents: Fifteen Tales Of Murder, Mayhem And Malice From The Land Of Minnesota Nice. Mrs. Berns can also be found in most of the Murder-by-Month Mysteries.

Visit Jess at her website or on Facebook.

Books are available at retail and online booksellers.