Thursday, June 30, 2022

Showcase - June 2022 Harlequin series picks

Those who've known me a long while know that I have a special place in my heart for HQN series romance novels and it's my pleasure to showcase the June 2022 picks.

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

#MacmillianAudio Review of Nightwork by Nora Roberts

Today on the blog it's my absolute pleasure to bring you my review of superstar Nora Roberts' latest novel. Do not let this one get away!

ISBN: 9781250852151
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Release Date: 05-24-2022
Length: 16 hours and 22 minutes
Source: Publisher for review
Buy It: Amazon/ Chirpbooks (14.99)



#1 New York Times bestselling author Nora Roberts introduces an unforgettable thief in an unputdownable new novel…

Greed. Desire. Obsession. Revenge . . . It’s all in a night’s work.

Harry Booth started stealing at nine to keep a roof over his ailing mother’s head, slipping into luxurious, empty homes at night to find items he could trade for precious cash. When his mother finally succumbed to cancer, he left Chicago―but kept up his nightwork, developing into a master thief with a code of honor and an expertise in not attracting attention?or getting attached.

Until he meets Miranda Emerson, and the powerful bond between them upends all his rules. But along the way, Booth has made some dangerous associations, including the ruthless Carter LaPorte, who sees Booth as a tool he controls for his own profit. Knowing LaPorte will leverage any personal connection, Booth abandons Miranda for her own safety―cruelly, with no explanation―and disappears.

But the bond between Miranda and Booth is too strong, pulling them inexorably back together. Now Booth must face LaPorte, to truly free himself and Miranda once and for all.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Showcase - Her Darkest Secret by Jessica R. Patch

Today I'm showcasing, Her Darkest Secret by Jessica R. Patch a new Love Inspired release.

ISBN-13: 9781335530028
Publisher: Harlequin Love Inspired
Release Date: 06-28-2022
Length: 352 pp
Buy It: Publisher/ Amazon/ B&N/ IndieBound



When a cold-case serial killer returns, FBI special agent Fiona Kelly has one last chance to stop him before he claims the prize he’s always wanted—her.

The sight of a goose feather at a murder scene modeled after a children’s poem is enough to make FBI special agent Fiona Kelly's blood turn to ice. Almost two decades ago, a feather was left with her sister's body—and with every subsequent victim of the Nursery Rhyme Killer. Now he's back. Only this time, his latest gruesome murder is a message to the only one who ever got away: Fiona.

Finding “Rhyme” is an obsession that's fueled Fiona's career—and destroyed her marriage to fellow FBI agent Asa Kodiak. Now Fiona and Asa have to put their past tensions aside and work together one last time. But Rhyme is watching, and catching this killer may force Fiona to reveal her biggest, darkest secret…the one only he knows.

“Her Darkest Secret by Jessica R. Patch grabbed me in the first scene of this edge-of-your-seat suspense and didn't let go until the end!”—Patricia Bradley, author of the Memphis Cold Case novels

Monday, June 27, 2022

#GIVEAWAY Showcase - Death and the Conjuror by Tom Mead a Partners in Crime virtual tour

Today is my stop on the Death and the Conjuror by Tom Mead blog tour. Don't forget to visit all the stops and to enter the #Giveaway sponsored by the FAB Partners In Crime Tours.

Death and the Conjuror by Tom Mead Banner

Death and the Conjuror

by Tom Mead

June 27 - July 24, 2022 Virtual Book Tour


Death and the Conjuror by Tom Mead

A magician-turned-sleuth in pre-war London solves three impossible crimes

In 1930s London, celebrity psychiatrist Anselm Rees is discovered dead in his locked study, and there seems to be no way that a killer could have escaped unseen. There are no clues, no witnesses, and no evidence of the murder weapon. Stumped by the confounding scene, the Scotland Yard detective on the case calls on retired stage magician-turned-part-time sleuth Joseph Spector. For who better to make sense of the impossible than one who traffics in illusions?

Spector has a knack for explaining the inexplicable, but even he finds that there is more to this mystery than meets the eye. As he and the Inspector interview the colorful cast of suspects among the psychiatrist’s patients and household, they uncover no shortage of dark secrets―or motives for murder. When the investigation dovetails into that of an apparently-impossible theft, the detectives consider the possibility that the two transgressions are related. And when a second murder occurs, this time in an impenetrable elevator, they realize that the crime wave will become even more deadly unless they can catch the culprit soon.

A tribute to the classic golden-age whodunnit, when crime fiction was a battle of wits between writer and reader, Death and the Conjuror joins its macabre atmosphere, period detail, and vividly-drawn characters with a meticulously-constructed fair play puzzle. Its baffling plot will enthrall readers of mystery icons such as Agatha Christie and John Dickson Carr, modern masters like Anthony Horowitz and Elly Griffiths, or anyone who appreciates a good mystery.

Friday, June 24, 2022

Review - The Secret Life of Maggie Blake interview with author Marilyn Brant

Today is a special day on The Reading Frenzy because my friend Marilyn Brant is here to talk about her  brand new release, The Secret Life of Maggie Blake. And I have the privilege of sharing my thoughts. I know you'll enjoy the chat between old friends and once you learn more about the new novel, I know you'll want your own copy. Which by the way is free to all you #kindleunlimited peeps.

ISBN-13: 979-8449806932
Publisher: Independently Published
Release Date: 05-02-2022
Length: 432pp
Source: author for review
Buy It: Amazon/ B&N/ IndieBound



THE SECRET LIFE OF MAGGIE BLAKE is a contemporary romantic suspense, light action & adventure tale by New York Times & USA Today bestselling author Marilyn Brant! This story is for fans of humorous husband/wife spy films such as "True Lies," readers who love slow-build romantic suspense, admirers of heroes in disguise like Zorro & The Scarlet Pimpernel, and anyone who's ever found themselves having "Walter Mitty"-like fantasies in the middle of the day...

In an affluent Chicago suburb, Maggie Santori Blake, a clever stay-at-home mom with vivid daydreams of a more exciting life, is caught up in a dangerous game of espionage when an elusive motorcycle-riding hero returns to town.

The Motorcycle Maverick's top-secret government mission puts Maggie's life, her family's safety, and her marriage at risk...especially when she discovers that the sexy, highly skilled, and masked special agent is none other than Preston A. Blake III—her seemingly mild-mannered CEO husband.

To protect those she loves, Maggie must not only confront the man she thought she knew and the decade of lies between them, she's also forced to put aside her fantasies and become the heroic woman of her imagination.

Thursday, June 23, 2022

Hachette audio review of Run Rose Run by Dolly Parton and James Patterson

Ever since reading The President is missing by Patterson and Bill Clinton I’ve been looking for another collaboration to read, well I found it in Run Rose Run. The partnership between Patterson and Parton might seem like an ill-fit but in reality it works beautifully and the audience will see just how big a mark on Run Rose Run is Dolly’s alone. And the audio is the way to go if you love Dolly's distinct voice.

Publisher: Hachette Audio
Release Date: 03-02-2022
Length: 10 hours - 19 minutes
Source: Purchase Chirpbooks
Buy It: Chirpbooks



From America’s most beloved superstar and its greatest storyteller - a thriller about a young singer-songwriter on the rise and on the run, and determined to do whatever it takes to survive.

Every song tells a story.
She’s a star on the rise, singing about the hard life behind her.
She’s also on the run. Find a future; lose a past.
Nashville is where she’s come to claim her destiny. It’s also where the darkness she’s fled might find her. And destroy her.

Run, Rose, Run is a novel glittering with danger and desire - a story that only America’s number one beloved entertainer and its number one best-selling author could have created.

Audiobook edition read by Dolly Parton, Kelsea Ballerini, James Fouhey, Kevin T. Collins, Peter Ganim, Luis Moreno, Soneela Nankani, Ronald Peet, Robert Petkoff, Ella Turenne, and Emily Woo Zeller.

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Showcase - Fake it Til You Bake It by Jamie Wesley

Today I'm showcasing Jamie Wesley's latest romantic comedy, Fake It Til You Bake It!

ISBN-13: 9781250801852
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Release Date: 06-21-2022
Length: 336pp
Buy It: Amazon/ B&N/ IndieBound



A reality star and a cupcake-baking football player pretend to be a couple in order to save his bakery in this sweet and sexy romance from Jamie Wesley, Fake It Till You Bake It.

Jada Townsend-Matthews is the most reviled woman in America after turning down a proposal on a reality dating show. When she comes home to lick her wounds, Jada finds herself working at San Diego's newest cupcake bakery, Sugar Blitz, alongside the uptight owner and professional football player Donovan Dell.

When a reporter mistakenly believes Jada and Donovan are an item, they realize they can use the misunderstanding to their advantage to help the struggling bakery and rehabilitate Jada's image. Faking a relationship should be simple, but sometimes love is the most unexpected ingredient.

Fake it Till You Bake It is a sweet confection of a novel, the perfect story to curl up with and enjoy with a cupcake on the side.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

Showcase - The Last Island A Novel by ZÜLFÜ LIVANELI Translated by AYSE A. SAHIN

Today I'm showcasing another fantastic novel translated into English and brought to our shores by my favorite indie Other Press. The Last Island is a political allegory first written in 2008 from the Turkish Internationally bestselling author of Disquiet.

ISBN-13:  978-1-63542-222-1
Publisher: Other Press
Release Date: 06-21-2022
Length: 320pp
Buy It: Publisher/ Amazon/ B&N/ IndieBound


Having failed to hold onto power after an ironfisted first term, the former President moves to a secluded island and decides to rid it of what he sees as its “anarchic” components. The island, described by its close-knit community as a utopia, the last peaceful resort for humankind, morphs into dystopia when the President, in the hope of bringing order to island life, begins to act more and more like a dictator. The first ones to revolt against him are the seagulls.
Originally written in 2008 as a condemnation of the authoritarian Turkish regime, The Last Island has only grown more relevant, foreshadowing the events and aftermath of Istanbul’s bloody Gezi Park/Taksim Square political protests of 2013, as well as the protest movements of our time.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Sophia Rose Reviews- The Shadow Riders by Louis L'Amour

Today Sophia Rose is back reviewing one of her favorite western authors, Louis L'Amour and his Civil War era novel, The Shadow Riders.

The Shadow Riders by Louis L’Amour, Narrated by Jason Culp

Western Fiction

Publisher: Random House Audio

Published:  4.26.22

Time:  5 hours 7 minutes

Rating: 4.5 stars

Narrator Rating: 5 stars

Source: Penguin Random House Audio

Sellers: Amazon

ADD TO: GoodReads


Friday, June 17, 2022

Showcase - Disappeared by Bonnar Spring

Today I'm excited to bring you my showcase of Disappeared, the latest thriller from Bonnar Spring. This book is on my list and my mom LOVED it!

ISBN-13: 978-1608094882
Publisher: Oceanview
Release Date: 05-03-2022
Length: 336pp
Buy It: Amazon/ B&N/ IndieBound


Julie Welch’s sister, Fay Lariviere, disappears from their hotel in Morocco. Although she leaves a note that she’ll be back in two days, Fay doesn’t return.

Julie’s anger shifts to worry—and to fear when she discovers a stalker. Then, an attack meant for Julie kills another woman. Searching Fay’s luggage and quizzing the hotel staff, Julie discovers Fay’s destination—a remote village in the Saharan desert. Convinced her sister is in danger and propelled by her own jeopardy, Julie rushes to warn Fay.

By the time she reaches the village, Julie finds that Fay has traveled deeper into the desert. With a villager as guide, Julie follows—only to be stranded in the Sahara when the guide abandons her. Julie is eventually reunited with Fay—in a prison cell—and learns the reasons for Fay’s secrecy.

Although furious at Fay’s deception and weak from her desert ordeal, Julie knows they must work together. The sisters, ensnared in a web of dangerous lies and about to be permanently “disappeared”, pit their wits against soldiers and desert in a fight for their lives.

Perfect for fans of Tana French and Martin Cruz Smith

Thursday, June 16, 2022

Sophia Rose Reviews - A Man of Legend by Linda Broday

Today Sophia Rose is back sharing her thoughts on A Man of Legend, a historical western romance by Linda Broday.

A Man of Legend by Linda Broday

#3 Lone Star Legends

Historical Romance, Western

Publisher:  Sourcebooks Casablanca

Published: 3.29.22

Pages:  375

Rating: 5 stars

Format: eARC

Source: NetGalley

Sellers: Amazon

ADD TO: GoodReads


GoodReads Blurb: 

Famous across Texas, the Legends stand ready to take on any challenge that comes their way...

Crockett Legend has always loved Paisley Mahone, but a family feud sure can ruin a romance. When her father waged a war against the Legends, Paisley took her father's side. They've never seen eye to eye, and the rift widened when Paisley's brother was killed in prison--after being sentenced by none other than Crockett.

Now Paisley's father is dead too, and she's headed home to mourn with the rest of her family when she runs into Crockett on the train. But when the train is held up by outlaws, it comes to Crockett and Paisley to save a young shooting victim. She never thought being close to Crockett could make her feel anything but revulsion ever again, but some second changes are worth the risk...

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Showcase - The Bridesmaid's Union by the author of Carnegie Hill, Jonathan Vatner

Today I'm excited to be showcasing a new release from fave St. Martin's Press, The Bridesmaid's Union a new book by the author of Carnegie Hill, Jonathan Vatner about an eternal Bridesmaid who takes her Bridezilla issues to Social Media. This little gem is high on my pile and I'm sure once you read all about it, it will be up there on yours too.

ISBN-13: 9781250762399
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: 06-14-2022
Length: 336pp
Buy It: Amazon/ B&N/ IndieBound



From the author of Carnegie Hill, comes Jonathan Vatner's The Bridesmaids Union, a captivating novel of family, Facebook groups, and bridesmaids gone rogue.

Iris Hagarty has just about had it with weddings. After witnessing one too many meltdowns over flower arrangements, she takes to the internet to vent about the trials and tribulations of being a bridesmaid to demanding and ungrateful brides. She finds she is not alone, and soon becomes the moderator of a Facebook group full of other bridesmaids, eager to share their own horror stories.

Enter Iris’s sister Jasmine, the golden child and their parents’ obvious favorite, newly engaged and wanting none other than Iris to be her maid of honor. Knowing full well that Jasmine doesn’t need a wedding to bring out her spoiled side, Iris buckles in for a bumpy ride. At least now she has an outlet—one full of new online friends hungry for juicy details.

But as the Bridesmaids Union grows, Iris finds it harder to keep under control. And she even has some doubts about whether there will be a wedding after all. While Jasmine’s fiancé, David, seems smitten with his bride-to-be, Iris is less sure about her social-climber sister’s intentions. Though that could just be because Iris is having trouble keeping her own eyes off of the groom.

Brimming with family drama, and set in the ever-encroaching world of Instagram DM's and Facebook flame wars, The Bridesmaids Union shows the power and limits of alliances we form on social media, and how to make the most of the ones we’re born into.

Tuesday, June 14, 2022

#GIVEAWAY Release Day Book Blast - Swarm by Guy Morris sponsored by Partners In Crime Tours

Welcome to the Swarm release day blast be sure and visit all the sights and don't forget to enter the #Giveaway too.

Swarm by Guy Morris Banner


by Guy Morris

June 14, 2022 Book Blast


Swarm by Guy Morris

SLVIA... decades ago, an AI program escaped the NSA Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, and has never been re-captured... true story.

Derek Taylor, fugitive hacker and contractor to the National Security Agency is living under the name of a murdered best friend, hiding from powers who still want him dead. Taylor’s ties to a terrorist hacker group called SNO leave him open to investigation by Lt. Jennifer Scott, the daughter of a Joint Chief—a woman determined to go to any lengths to prove her worth.

But when a Chinese artificial intelligence (AI) internet virus threatens national security, SLVIA warns Taylor the fifth seal of end time prophecy has broken. This unexpected assault soon forces an autocratic US President to deploy a defective AI weapon. Now, Taylor and Lt. Scott must join forces across three continents to stop the evil AI virus from crippling America or destroying SLVIA before an apocalypse swarms over Jerusalem.

Combining conspiracies, cyber espionage, and advanced weapons, Swarm reveals what happens when AI singularity and prophecy collide to shake the world at its very foundations.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Showcase - Blown Away: Redefining Life After My Son's Suicide

Today I'm showcasing a very timely book, a memoir from a grieving father. Suicide is rampant in this country right now from distressed teens to returning veterans and everything in between, and unfortunately it seems everyone either personally knows or knows of a victim of suicide.
This book is high on my list and I'm sure once you learn more it will be a high priority for you too!

ISBN-13: 978-1-63542-260-3
Publisher: Other Press
Release Date: 05-31-2022
Length: 320pp
Buy It: Publisher/ Amazon/ B&N/ IndieBound



This powerful memoir follows a father’s journey to make sense of his world after losing his son to addiction and suicide.

Fifteen years ago, Richard Boothby received a fateful call from his ex-wife that their twenty-three-year-old son, Oliver, was dead. Although Richard had been dreading this news, given Oliver’s prolonged struggle with drug dependency, nothing could have prepared him for the devastating shock. He became obsessed with uncovering the truth of why Oliver shot himself—had he been self-medicating an undiagnosed mental illness?—and what they could have done to prevent it.
In an attempt to stem the pain, Boothby turned to psychoanalysis. He was no stranger to the concept—as a professor of philosophy, he had focused his career on the intersection between psychoanalytic theory and contemporary philosophy—but this was far from an academic exercise. Through his time in talk therapy, as well as psychedelic experiences in a research study on psilocybin, he would gradually find a sense of acceptance of the unknown, and a renewed appreciation for life.
Exploring the epidemics of substance abuse and gun violence from an intimate perspective, Boothby’s poignant account of grief shows how the death of a loved one can in some ways bring us closer to them and ourselves.

Friday, June 10, 2022


Today I'm showcasing a provocative novel first published in 2008 after the author's death published in the US by my favorite Indie Other Press.

ISBN-13: 978-1-63542-064-7
Publisher: Other Press
Release Date: 06-07-2022
Length: 160pp
Buy It: Publisher/ Amazon/ B&N/ IndieBound



First published after the author’s death in 2008, this provocative novel charts the late-in-life sexual awakening of a retired air force pilot who begins a dangerous affair with a male servant.

Captain Ni’mat, a reservist from the Egyptian army defeated by the Israelis in 1967, finds himself aging and idle, spending his days at a luxurious private club in Cairo with former comrades. One night, Captain Ni’mat has an exquisite, chilling dream: he sees pure beauty in the form of his Nubian valet. Awakened by these searing images, he slips into the hut where the young man sleeps. The vision of his naked body so deeply disturbs Captain Ni’mat that his monotonous existence is suddenly turned upside down.
Unbeknownst to his wife, he comes to know physical love with his valet. In a country where religious fundamentalism grows increasingly prevalent every day, this forbidden passion will lead him to the height of happiness, at least for a time.

Thursday, June 9, 2022

#GIVEAWAY Showcase Hooker Avenue by Jodé Millman a Partners in Crime tour

Today is my stop on the Hooker Avenue by Jodé Millman, read all about it be sure to stop at all the review stops and don't forget to enter the #Giveaway too.

Hooker Avenue by Jodé Millman Banner

Hooker Avenue

by Jodé Millman

June 1-30, 2022 Virtual Book Tour


Hooker Avenue by Jode Millman

Being a Good Samaritan is hazardous.

Single mom and attorney Jessie Martin learns that lesson the hard way.

During a violent spring thunderstorm, Jessie discovers an unconscious woman lying in a roadside ditch and dials 911 for help. Little does she know her compassion will propel her on a collision course with her estranged best friend, Detective Ebony Jones...and one of the most shocking mysteries in the Hudson Valley.

The badly beaten victim, Lissie Sexton, is a prostitute who claims she’s escaped from the clutches of a killer. She’s also a client of Jessie’s new boss, and former nemesis, Jeremy Kaplan, and fearing for Lissie’s life, he’s hidden her away from everyone.

Ebony is investigating a series of cold cases, and the missing women’s profiles bear a striking resemblance to Lissie’s. She’s willing to stake her career on the hooker being the key to solving the serial crimes. However, Jessie is the major obstacle to her investigation- she won’t give up Lissie’s location.

Jessie’s in a bind. She wants to help Ebony, but she can’t compromise her client, her boss, or her legal ethics. To catch the killer, can Jessie and Ebony put aside their past? Can they persuade Lissie to identify her assailant to prevent future attacks?

Praise for Hooker Avenue:

"Dark, dangerous and deviously suspenseful, Hooker Avenue kept me turning pages late into the night. I adored the fascinating cast of characters and the rich Hudson Valley setting. A truly terrific book!"-- Alison Gaylin, USA Today Bestselling, and Edgar Award-winning author of THE COLLECTIVE

“So many skeletons are banging on the closet doors to be set free, in this heady mix of sizzle, punch, and danger. And, even more intriguing, it’s all based on a true crime.”--Steve Berry, International and New York Times bestselling author of THE KAISER’S WEB

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: Level Best Books
Publication Date: April 19, 2022
Number of Pages: 360
ISBN: 9781685120825
Series: Queen City Crimes, #2
Book Links: Amazon || Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

There was no doubt about it. Jessie Martin felt a storm brewing.

Without warning, the blue sky darkened to an ominous purplish gray. A blade of lightning sliced open the sky, releasing a sudden downpour, and illuminating the Hudson Valley landscape as though it were a grainy black-and-white photograph. Seconds later, a crack of thunder shook her car.

Staring ahead through the blurry windshield, Jessie gripped the leather steering wheel as her heart mimicked the rhythm of the windshield wipers battling the deluge. It felt as though the world was ending, and all she wanted to do was get home to her boyfriend, Hal Samuels, and her baby, Lily.

The shrill ringing of her cellphone made her swerve toward the oncoming traffic on the slick roadway. Jessie righted her Jeep, and reflexively tapped the button on her steering wheel, activating the Bluetooth connection to her cellphone. The act was second nature and offered a brief respite from the hazards demanding her attention.

“Hal?” she asked, believing he was checking in. “I’m on my way home from Adams Market and I’m caught up in a pop-up storm. I should be home in a few minutes, unless there are road closures because of accidents.” There was a long silence and unease curled in her midsection. “Hello, Hal? Are you there?”

“Jessica, that’s extremely interesting, but why aren’t you taking my calls?” The low, raspy voice of her former mentor, Terrence Butterfield, resonated throughout the interior of the car. “How rude, my dear. After all we’ve meant to each other. And the secrets we’ve shared.” He paused.

His menacing tone turned her skin to gooseflesh, and before he could speak again, she smashed the phone button with her fist, disconnecting the call.

“What the—” she screamed, stopping before an expletive slipped out. Like an idiot, she’d let her guard down. She should have known that even after she’d helped put him away for murder, Terrence wouldn’t let her go.

Terrence had always been possessive of her, even when she’d been his student at Poughkeepsie High School over a decade ago. But something deeper, more disturbing, lurked beneath the surface. Last summer, he’d lured her teenage friend, Ryan Paige, into his home with drugs and booze. Ryan, who had been like a younger brother to her, was never seen alive again. And after the cops discovered his dismembered body in Terrence’s basement, Terrence was charged with his murder.

It still alarmed her that Terrence, her father’s best friend and one of the most popular faculty members at the school where her father was principal, was a psychotic, cold-blooded butcher. And as unreasonable as it may be, she felt responsible for Ryan’s death because she’d been blind to Terrence’s true nature, the monster hiding behind the charming mask.

Minutes ago on the phone, his voice had sounded so crisp and clear that he’d seemed to be sitting next to her in the passenger’s seat, his icy breath whispering in her ear. With Terrence’s vampiric presence lingering inside her car, Jessie’s eyes cut to the rearview mirror. Only the pitch-blackness of the stormy night reflected at her. Then, out of habit, her eyes whipped to the car seat buckled in the back seat. It was empty. Thankfully, nine-month-old Lily had stayed at home with Jessie’s mother while she’d made the quick trip to the grocery store.

The storm, the traffic, and the groceries rattling around in the hatchback had monopolized Jessie’s thoughts, as they should have; she’d been too focused on them to expect that Terrence would call her. Again. It had been two days since Terrence’s last call, and the problem was he never contacted her from the same number. He was a sneaky bastard. Sometimes he’d call her house and sometimes her cellphone, but he always phoned when he assumed she was alone.

It was unbelievable that a murderer, albeit a murderer acquitted on the grounds of criminal insanity and institutionalized in a state-run psychiatric center, could contact her. Or as she viewed it, stalk her. Jessie wasn’t sleeping. She wasn’t eating. She flinched whenever the doorbell or the phone rang, even if it was her parents, or Lily’s father, Kyle Emory, or Hal. She’d kept Terrence’s calls a secret from everyone, but Jessie felt like she was about to snap.

Another downpour engulfed the Jeep, and Jessie’s gaze darted back to the highway. She hadn’t thought it could rain any harder, but in an instant, Mother Nature had unleashed a tantrum.

Squinting to see through the misty sheets of rain, Jessie’s grip on the steering wheel tightened. Her fingernails sliced into her palms and her arms trembled as she fought to steady the Jeep on the slippery roadway.

She needed to pull off the road. She needed to get it together.

Jessie switched on her turn signal and then flipped on the emergency flashers. She coasted off the highway onto the narrow shoulder, parking a safe distance from the road on a grassy patch enclosing a strip mall parking lot, and exhaled a deep breath. As the storm swirled around her, she wondered why her life was so damn complicated.

For years, Terrence had been her friend, her teacher, and her mentor, even her confidante. Then, he’d become her greatest betrayer. To get the murder charges against him dismissed, he’d accused her of violating his attorney-client privilege, jeopardizing her law license. He’d alleged that she’d informed the cops about Ryan’s murder after he’d confided in her about the killing. But she hadn’t talked. Kyle had called the cops and had only admitted it under oath at the pre-trial hearing to dismiss the charges. Although Jessie had been exonerated of all wrongdoing, Terrence’s unfounded accusations had caused her irreparable damage. She’d lost her prestigious job, her fiancé Kyle, and almost her life and child.

“Don’t be stupid,” Jessie mumbled under her breath, battling the aftershock of Terrence’s call. “He’s been locked up for nine months and won’t be released, ever.” While the thought reassured her, Terrence had been harassing her since his commitment, and she hadn’t done a damn thing to stop him. She’d believed she was rid of him. But her inaction, her passivity, was allowing him to ruin her new life with Lily and Hal.

The nagging tightness in her shoulders relaxed as she decided, there and then, to seize control. Resolving the Terrence crisis was on her, not him. She’d hatch a plan, and if necessary, seek Hal’s help. After all, he was the District Attorney who’d prosecuted Terrence.

The rain was letting up and her yellow emergency signals pulsated in an eerie disco beat over the shimmering landscape. She switched them off and flicked on the high beams as she wiped away the condensation blanketing the inside of her windshield.

As her eyes adjusted, her vision followed the muted light of her Jeep’s headlights deep into the rain-drenched darkness. A car length or two ahead, the lights reflected off a glittering object lying in a shallow puddle. For a second, the lights twinkling like tiny snowflakes mesmerized her. Then her sight expanded, focusing on what appeared to be a bulky, glistening mass.

At first glance, it appeared to be the size and shape of a small child. But it couldn’t be. Logic told her that the object was probably a bouquet of deflated Mylar balloons, a pile of white garbage bags, or a golf umbrella blown off to the side of the road. Her eyes, and imagination, had to be screwing with her because any reasonable person would have taken shelter in the storm.

Jessie’s thoughts flickered back to Lily, and the news stories about toddlers wandering out of their homes and into the woods. Her paranoia might be farfetched, but the shiny rolling waves looked more like the curve of a shoulder than deflated balloons. Another glance at the toddler-shaped mass confirmed that it was too human to ignore.

She needed a closer look.

Jessie opened her car door and stepped outside into the rain, a cold shower so fine and intense that the drops perforated her clothing like needles. She shivered. Her damp skinny jeans and silk blouse clung to her like a second skin.

The amber glare of the parking lot’s lights shimmered along a narrow ditch lining the edge of the lot, and the beams of her headlights shone like a spotlight across the grassy roadside. Never veering from the path of light, Jessie inched closer to the slippery ridge of the ditch.

In a flash, the landscape became bathed in a blinding white light and then faded back to black. A sudden clap of thunder made her start and, losing her footing, Jessie tumbled forward onto the slick, rain-soaked earth. Her hands and knees sunk into the mud as she caught her breath and collected her wits. Water dripped into her eyes, and she blinked it away to regain sight.

Her eyes searched frantically through the storm for whatever she believed she’d seen.

Scrambling to her feet, Jessie crept toward the trench. The gully was about five feet deep, shoulder height for her, and was collecting runoff from the storm.

She sucked in her breath as realization dawned. She had not been mistaken. There, in the darkness, she spied the sole of a bare foot, pale and pink against the murky water. A sudden coldness seized her core as her eyes traveled up what appeared to be a leg toward a body partially submerged in the puddle. The person wore a silver sequined bomber jacket and jeans smeared with dirt and brush, which had camouflaged it, preventing easy detection. It had been pure luck that her headlights had reflected off the jacket at just the right angle to attract her attention.

From where Jessie stood, it was difficult to say whether it was a man or woman, dead or alive, but there was definitely a body lying in the mud curled up in the fetal position. The person’s face was hidden beneath a mass of long, straggly hair that floated like a halo in the black water accumulating around it.

She thought she heard a moan, but the pulse throbbing in her ears and the rain pulverizing the ground muffled all other sounds.

“Hey,” Jessie yelled. “Hey, can you hear me?”

She received no answer.

Jessie shouted again. This time, an arm and leg twitched in apparent response to her call. Those minute movements signaled she was staring down at a person who was still alive, still breathing, at least for the moment. From the volume of water streaming into the trench, every minute, every second counted.

Juiced by adrenaline, her thoughts bounced between whether to climb down into the gully or call for help. The retaining walls of the ditch were already crumbling and sliding down into the bottom of the trench, making them steep and slick. If she climbed down, it might be impossible to scale back up the muddy slopes, and then they’d both be stuck in the ditch. Or worse, they could both drown.

And she’d left her phone in the car.

“I’m going to get help,” she shouted. The whipping wind blew the words back into her face. “I don’t know if you can hear me, but hang on. I’m calling for help.”

Jessie’s legs grew weak as she turned and dashed back to the car, her feet skating through the grass and mud. Breathless, Jessie slid inside, rummaged through her bag, and dialed 9-1-1.

“Dutchess 911. What is the address of the emergency?” asked the dispatcher.

“Hello, operator? I need your help,” Jessie said, her voice ragged with terror. “There’s a person lying in a ditch and we need an ambulance right away.”

“Ma’am, please slow down. What’s your location?”

“What? I’ve got a dying person here. I need your help.”

“Ma’am, first we need to pinpoint your location in case we’re disconnected. Now, what’s the intersection or landmark closest to you?”

Jessie sighed in frustration and slowly repeated her plea for help. “I’m in the City of Poughkeepsie on Dutchess Turnpike, right across from Adams Farm Stand, near the Starbucks. There’s an injured person trapped in a storm drain. The water is rising fast, and I can’t get to them.”

“Okay,” the operator said. “What is your phone number and your name?”

“Jessie Martin,” she replied, and provided her cell number.

“Thank you, Jessie. Can you tell me if the person is still breathing?”

“Yes, they appear to be, but not for long if they don’t get help.” Panicked, she’d been rushing through her responses and paused to compose herself. “He or she appears to be semiconscious. I don’t know how they ended up there or how long they’ve been there, but the rainwater is collecting in the ditch and they’re going to drown if you don’t send help. Please, please send someone right away.”

The dispatcher repeated the facts to her—injured person, storm drain, rising water, Dutchess Turnpike—and asked Jessie to confirm, which she did. “Thank you, Ms. Martin. Are you in any danger?”

The operator’s robotic, monotone inquiries made her question her involving the authorities. Recently, she’d learned that contacting them wasn’t always the best course of action. Before Ryan’s murder, she’d trusted the criminal justice system wholeheartedly. But that was before she’d almost lost everything she cherished. She couldn’t face another attack on her integrity and professionalism without imperiling the fragile sanity she clung to like a life preserver. Yet, here she was repeating the same stupid mistake.

“No, I’m fine. I’m in my car, but there’s a person outside whose life is in immediate danger.” The dispatcher had asked her so many damn questions without providing one iota of help that Jessie felt like screaming. She took a deep breath, forcing herself to calm down and keep her emotions in check.

“Yes, I understand. I want you to remain in your car, and I’d like to keep you on the line until emergency services arrive. Someone will be on the scene shortly.”

Shortly was a subjective, if not relative term, which could mean anytime between ten and twenty minutes. In this rainstorm, maybe even longer. Hopefully, the person would survive that long.

Screw this, Jessie thought, scanning the interior of the car for her first aid kit and anything that could serve as a lifeline.

As the line went dead, a flash of white light caught her eye. In the rearview mirror, Jessie detected headlights careening toward the rear of her Jeep. Right toward her.


Excerpt from Hooker Avenue by Jodé Millman. Copyright 2022 by Jodé Millman. Reproduced with permission from Jodé Millman. All rights reserved.



Author Bio:

Jodé Millman

Jodé Millman is the multi-award winning author of THE MIDNIGHT CALL, and the best-selling SEATS: NEW YORK Theatre guidebooks. Her latest thriller, HOOKER AVENUE, is now available. She’s an attorney, a reviewer for, the host/producer of the Backstage with the Bardavon podcast, and creator of The Writer’s Law School. Jodé lives with her family in the Hudson Valley, where she is at work on her next novel in her “Queen City Crime” series- novels inspired by true crimes in the valley she calls home.

Discover more about Jodé and her work at:
BookBub - @JodeMillmanAuthor
Instagram - @jodewrites
Twitter - @worldseats
Facebook - @JodeSusanMillmanAuthor



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Wednesday, June 8, 2022

#GIVEAWAY Showcase - Death Warrant by Bryan Johnston a Partners In Crime Virtual Tour

Today is my stop on the Death Warrant by Bryan Johnston blog tour, be sure to read all about it then enter the Fab #Giveaway.

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Death Warrant

by Bryan Johnston

June 1-30, 2022 Virtual Book Tour


Death Warrant by Bryan Johnston

Death Makes Great TV.

Frankie Percival is cashing in her chips. To save her brother from financial ruin, Frankie―a single stage performer and mentalist who never made it big―agrees to be assassinated on the most popular television show on the planet: Death Warrant. Once she signs her life away, her memory is wiped clean of the agreement, leaving her with no idea she will soon be killed spectacularly for global entertainment.

After years of working in low-rent theaters, Frankie prepares for the biggest performance of her life as her Death Warrant assassin closes in on her. Every person she encounters could be her killer. Every day could be her last.

She could be a star, if only she lives that long.

Praise for Death Warrant:

“I absolutely loved Death Warrant! This will definitely make the ‘Best of 2022’ list.”
—Elle Ellsberry, Content Acquisition & Partnerships, Scribd

Book Details:

Genre: Thriller
Published by: CamCat Books
Publication Date: June 21st, 2022
Number of Pages: 352
ISBN: 074430508X (ISBN13: 9780744305081)
Book Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:


Jesus, thought Joey, stopping to catch his breath while simultaneously chastising himself for using the Lord’s name in vain. They’d said the hike was challenging, even by hardy Norwegian mountaineering standards. But he didn’t realize “challenging” was code for “your lungs will be bleeding.” Probably not too demanding for a younger person, but he grudgingly admitted he no longer fit that demographic. Those advancing “middle-years” made his little adventures even more important to him. He took a swig from his water bottle and checked his watch. He’d been making good time. “That’s why you trained for six months, dummy,” he reminded himself for the umpteenth time, not that anyone could hear him. He’d seen a few hikers coming back down the mountain, but to his surprise he hadn’t seen anyone else making the ascent. He’d purposefully picked the least touristy season that didn’t include several feet of snow to make his bucket list trip, but still, he’d expected to see a few more people. Not that he was complaining; he was enjoying the solitude. With one last cleansing breath and the taste of copper dissipating from his mouth, he got to his feet for the final push. On the climb he’d taken to talking to himself, carrying on conversations out loud, playing the part of all parties involved. He’d found it highly entertaining, and it helped keep his mind off the lactic acid burning in his thighs over the five-hour climb.

“Why in heaven’s name does it have to be Norway? It’s so far away,” Joey said out loud in the closest resemblance of his wife Joanie’s patent ed exasperated tone. He’d had thirty years of marriage to fine tune it.

“Because that’s where the Trolltunga is, hon!” Joey replied.

He vividly remembered when the holo-brochure had arrived. “Have you ever seen anything like it?” he’d asked her. She hadn’t. The 3D image projected by the brochure had been impressive, and even his wife couldn’t deny that. The Trolltunga was a rock formation that sprang 2,000 feet straight up above the north end of a Norwegian lake whose name Joanie never could pronounce and was topped with a cliff that jutted out preposterously far, like an enormous plank of a pirate ship. Watching the image slowly rotating over the brochure on their dining table had sealed the deal.

Joey could taste the copper again but powered through. He knew he was almost there.

“Should have brought the stick, genius,” he grumbled to himself. “That’s what hiking staffs are for.” But he’d been afraid some careless baggage handler would damage it. The staff had been too important to him. The entire Boy Scout Troop had carved their names into it along with the final inscription, “Thanks for all your years of service.” He wasn’t sure who was prouder of the gift, him, or Joanie. Regardless, the staff would have been a help.

His research showed that the round-trip climb would be about 22 kilometers—45,000 steps—and the equivalent of climbing and descending 341 floors. He guessed he was right around floor 170. Almost there.

As he rounded a large boulder, he thought back on all his training, preparation, and admittedly, the inconveniences he’d put Joanie through, and recited one of his wife’s favorite admonitions, “Joey Dahl, I swear you will be the death of me.” But then what he saw stopped him in his tracks. At that moment Joey felt complete validation. He also instantly understood what made the Trolltunga such a draw for thrill seekers. The cliff ’s edge reached out so far that the photo op was one for the books, the type of picture you frame and hang in your den. A conversation starter.

Bragging rights. The other church deacons were going to be sick of hearing about it.

“Oh, babe,” Joey said, more to himself this time, “I wish you were here to see this.” But even six months ago he knew that was never going to happen, what with her condition, but she was never going to begrudge him this trip. He’d been dreaming about it for years.

It took a certain person, one immune to heights and vertigo, to walk to that cliff’s edge and look out. Joey was one of those people. He set up the small, portable tripod he’d brought and mounted his mobile device, his optic, to take pictures and video remotely. He couldn’t wait to show it to Joanie and the kids. Through a little trial and error, he eventually got the framing right and strode out to the edge. He turned to face the camera and spread his arms wide in a “look at what I achieved” pose. The optic’s camera lens clicked once, twice, three times.

And then the bullet hit him right above the left eye.

Joey Dahl dropped like a puppet whose strings had been cut, toppling backwards off the cliff, falling into space. Like a base jumper without a wingsuit or parachute. His body tumbled down the sheer cliff face, yet he never quite hit the side. His body stayed clear of the rocky wall, due to the sharp drafts from the lake below. The constant pushing away from the wall, managed to keep him undamaged, bullet wound aside, until he finally met the ground below, by a lake whose name his wife never could pronounce. By then, however, he’d been long dead.


Six thousand miles away, a room full of people in finely tailored suits and skirts were watching intently, applauding with their approval. One of them, a woman with severe bangs, all business, smoothly pivoted from the wall of monitors, her eyes drawn to another, smaller screen where a series of numbers were appearing in real time. She allowed herself a trace of a smile. The ratings were in. Perhaps not matching those of the pop star’s demise from last summer, but still better than management had expected. Enough to trigger her bonus. Maybe she’d take the kids to Six Flags.

Chapter 1


If you’re going to be summarily executed, you’d at least want the place that’s arranging your death to have a couple of nice rugs. Just for appearances. Nobody wants to be offed by some fly-by-night outfit that considers Ikea the height of corporate décor. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried. I really didn’t know what to expect, they don’t show the offices on the commercials. I knew it probably wouldn’t be like walking into a tax-prep firm on a strip mall—some tiny space filled with cheap furniture, all pleather and particleboard. It is anything but, and instantly fills me with a good vibe and reinforces my belief that I am making the right choice. The entry doors are an artistic combination of rich amber-hued wood, glass, and burnished metal, most likely brass, but buffed dull to appear understated. Classy. You feel like you are walking into a place of importance, where critical decisions are made on a by-minute basis, which I guess they are.

Upon entering I’m greeted by a kindly gentleman with open arms. “Welcome, Ms. Percival, we’re so pleased to see you,” he says with utter sincerity. “Our receptionist will take care of your every need.”

It takes me a second to realize the man is a hologram. I take a step closer and poke at it, which the holographic gentleman tolerates with a smile. Only the subtlest flicker gives away its true identity. From more than a few feet away you’d swear the man was flesh and blood. Holos are common these days, but this one takes the cake. The technology they have here obviously is top shelf stuff. Based on the greeting, they had me scanned and identified the moment I stepped through the front door.

I immediately pick up on the smell: lavender. It’s subtle but noticeable. Upon deeper consideration, the perfect scent. It’s probably the world’s most relaxing smell. Smells have a stronger link to memories than any of the senses, and I can feel myself imprinting the scent with the experience. What did my high school teacher always say? Smells ring bells. True that. I’ll probably go to my grave associating that smell with this place. Ha, go to my grave, bad choice of words for this visit.

The lobby floor is a combination of real hardwoods and Persian rugs so soft you instantly want to take your shoes off for the sheer sensory experience. The space feels more like the lobby of a four-star hotel: tasteful, elegant, contemporary without pressing the issue. The woman behind the reception desk is perfectly in line with the ambience. She is probably in her late thirties, attractive but non-threatening. I like the cut of her jib, as my mom used to say. Her clothes are professional but still fashionable. If I were to guess, they were most likely chosen for her by a consultant, like news anchors choose their clothes to project an image of trustworthiness. When I approach the desk, her face lights up with one of the most endearing smiles I have ever witnessed. I lean in a bit and squint to make sure she’s real. Yep, carbon-based life form.

“How may I help you?” she asks, and I absolutely believe she means it. “I’m here to get whacked.” I mimic guns with my fingers, firing off a couple rounds at her before blowing the non-existent smoke from the barrels. When I’m nervous I say stupid stuff. Stupid or snarky. Stupid, snarky, or sarcastic. I’ve been attempting to pare it down to just one for the last ten years with mixed results. I try to sound like being here is no biggie, but my voice sounds shrill in my ears, and I seriously doubt my anti-perspirant is up to the challenge.

The woman, unfazed by my cavalier attitude, nods with a soft, endearing smile. “Of course. You can speak with one of our sales associates. Please take a seat. Someone will be with you in a moment.”

She gestures to a cozy waiting area with a half-dozen comfortable looking chairs, one of them occupied by a distinguished looking woman idly paging through an issue of Vanity Fair, one of the last media hold outs that still clings to the quaint notion of publishing on paper. I can see an A-list actress of some substance gracing the cover, dressed in a bold red riding jacket, khaki jodhpurs and knee-high boots. I can practically hear the baying of the hounds. The actress is currently all the rage and the expected shoo-in come award time for her role in a recent high-profile drama that has captured the country’s imagination. A period piece that boasts betrayal, star-crossed love, and overcoming staggering odds in the face of adversity. Or at least that’s what the trailers led me to believe.

I turn back to the receptionist. “So, how’s it work?” “Pardon?” she asks innocently.

“I mean, do you get to choose? Sniper shot? Blown up? Pitched into a vat of acid? There was one episode, brutal, they dropped a piano on the guy, like in a cartoon.” I also yap when I’m nervous.

The receptionist’s smile doesn’t waver. “I remember it well.” She gives me a polite nod and says, “Your sales associate will answer all of your questions,” and then tips her head in the direction of where the woman with the magazine is sitting.

With a wink I fire off another round at the receptionist, holster my hands in my pockets, and turn toward the waiting area. Jesus, she must think I’m a moron. I take a seat several chairs away from my silver-haired counterpart. She glances up at me and gives the tiniest of polite smiles— held a beat longer than is socially necessary—before turning her attention back to her magazine. In that singular moment we become confederates, there for the same reason, and she is acknowledging to me with that brief exchange that regardless of my race, sex, social standing, or political leanings, that I—we—are about to become members of a rather unique club. All for one, one for all.

My distinguished clubmate looks distinguished, well, prominent. The cut of her suit speaks of dinner parties of the well-heeled, where talk of debutantes and cotillions is not simply language of earlier generations. And that’s what’s puzzling. I’d simply assumed this place was not frequented by the 1 percent. I mean, why would they need to resort to this measure? They’re all loaded. They’ve got the means to provide for their family members without going to the extremes this joint provides. It then dawns on me that maybe not everyone here is doing this for the money. But why else? Fame? Boredom?

A moment later, a slim middle-aged woman with flawless hair approaches and addresses my clubmate. She rises to her feet, shakes the proffered associate’s hand, and off they go. It is now just me and the glossy A-lister.

I don’t even have a chance to pick up the magazine before my appointed sales associate arrives to greet me. If there ever was a physical embodiment of warmth and compassion, he stands before me. He introduces himself as Benjamin and I can no sooner call him Ben than flap my arms and fly to the moon. To call him Ben would be an affront. This is Benjamin, the type of man who walks one step behind his wife, who enters a room of strangers with his hand on the small of her back to let her know he’s right there with her. Benjamin is clearly a man who listens more than he speaks and gives careful consideration before he does. This is my three-second impression.

Benjamin appears to be maybe a decade older than me, in the early throes of middle age with salt-and-pepper hair, receding, in baseball terms, at the power-alleys of his forehead.

He wears a nice-fitting suit of deep blue with the thinnest of pinstripes. His shoes, brown, match his eyes. It’s the eyes that support everything. His whole demeanor, his warmth, radiates from those dark twins. But I can see upon further review that the smile that rides along with them is what seals the deal. The smile and eyes work in tandem. One without the other, strong, but together, unimpeachable. I would buy a Rolex out of the trunk of this guy’s car.

Benjamin shakes my hand and asks me to join him in his office where we can chat. That’s what he says¾ chat, not talk. The perfect word to set my mind at ease.

Just two pals.

His office is small but nicely appointed and has a window overlooking a wooded urban park. The lavender scent follows us into the room, which I appreciate. Benjamin offers me a seat in front of his desk and takes the chair behind it. The desk is tidy, with nothing but a couple of framed family photos, a World’s Most Okayest Employee mug, and a glass computer tablet mounted on a small, low-profile frame to keep it upright when he chooses to use it in that position.

Benjamin steeples his hands on his desk and fixes me with those molten lava cake eyes.

“So, Frances,” he begins. Not Ms. Percival, but Frances. “You’d like to learn more about . . .” He glances at his glass tablet and looks up with a small smile. “. . . how to get whacked.”

“Pretty much. And by the way, you can call me Frankie.”

“Then Frankie it is. And by the way, it’s okay, you can call it by its official name, a death warrant.”

“Fair enough.”

“How much do you know about the process?” Benjamin asks evenly. He says process with a long o. Benjamin has what used to be called a Trans-Atlantic accent. You’d hear it all the time in ancient movies with actors like Katherine Hepburn and Cary Grant. It’s halfway between a British and American accent. Like something taught at a New England boarding school. It sounds divine.

I shrug. “Not much. How come there’s hardly anything about it on the Internet? I mean, that’s pretty crazy that you’re able to keep it so hush-hush.”

Benjamin nods and smiles compassionately. “It is rather amazing, isn’t it? You’d think someone would talk. Somebody always talks. I’m embarrassed to say I really don’t know.”

And I believe him.

“And yet virtually nothing shows up in the media,” I observe, probably a little more pointedly than intended.

But Benjamin doesn’t seem to mind. He holds his hands out, shoulders arched in the classic Beats me pose. “Those are the interior machinations of the machine that are a mystery even to me. Ask me what time it is, and I can tell you. Ask me how the watch works, and I can’t. Much of the information is purely on a need-to-know basis.”

“And you don’t need to know?” I ask.

“Way above my paygrade. We’re highly compartmentalized.” He can see my skepticism. “Rest assured; I can answer most of your questions.”

He settles back into his chair and that’s when it occurs to me. The eyes. Brown. The receptionist’s eyes were brown. The other sales associate’s eyes were brown. Don’t ask me how I notice this, it’s what I do. I notice things. Little stuff that often is of no consequence. That’s why I was always a fan of Sherlock Holmes mysteries. He noticed things. While others saw, he observed. I thought that was cool. We were kindred spirits. Of course, his gift of observation made nonsense of mine, but the one thing I have going for me is that I am nonfiction. I live in the real world. What I don’t have is the benefit of Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle ensuring that I can spot a scuff on a shoe and divine that the culprit had brushed it against a curb in a rush to catch the number five bus. It’s bullshit, but it’s entertaining bullshit. Instead, my ability to notice things on a high but more realistic level has made me reasonably successful in my career—I’m a mentalist. My job is to observe. Take note. Listen and connect dots that others don’t see. I suppose I could be a cop or a private investigator, but that seems like work. Being a mentalist, on the other hand, is fun. We’re like magicians, but without the corny patter. Do I really have the gift of divination and clairvoyance? Sometimes it sure as hell feels like it. Let’s just say I’ve got a knack. However, a byproduct of my keen perception is an overactive imagination. I’ll sometimes see things for more than they are. But it does make life more interesting.

Back to the brown eyes. Of course. Brown eyes are soft, they’re compassionate. Blue eyes are striking, but in a place like this you don’t want striking, you want everything to be the Xanax of appearance. Calming. I’ll bet every public-facing employee here has brown eyes. In fact, I would imagine they’re all screened by a team of consultants to within an inch of their lives to fit specific criteria. A place like this probably only hires people who radiate kindness. I wonder how they measure that? There’s got to be some way to quantify a person’s level of kindness and compassion beyond spending five minutes in a room with them. With today’s technology, I’m sure someone’s found a way to figure out the analytics. To make it measurable.

Benjamin breaks into a smile no less cozy than an electric blanket. “So, what would you like to know?”

“Uh, how about you tell me what you can, and I’ll ask questions as they come to me.”

Benjamin gives a short nod. “Certainly. Let’s begin with the 30,000- foot view, and for clarity’s sake, I will use vernacular that I’m technically not supposed to: You will be killed, and your death will be televised.”

“Pretty damn clear vernacular,” I say.

Benjamin is all smiles. “I know, right? Gets to the meat of it pretty quick.”

“What did you mean by vernacular you’re not supposed to use?” I ask.

“Part of our internal policies. Company culture.” Benjamin says amiably. “Our programs are to be referred to as ‘episodes,’ not ‘shows.’ There are no ‘victims,’ but ‘participants’ or ‘souls.’ And all ‘participants’ will be shown the highest respect and dignity.”

“Mighty neighborly of you.”

“Thank you,” says Benjamin, looking sincerely appreciative of my comment, despite its snark. “Let me see if I can guess your next question,” he asks. “How does it work?”

“You’ve done this before, Benjamin.”

“Once or twice. We’ve got plenty of packages to choose from, depending on your budget, time frame, and other factors.”

“What kind of factors?”

Benjamin turns his eyes to his glass tablet, makes a few taps and swipes to call up the necessary information. “Do you care if it’s clean or messy? Quick and painless or would you rather feel the experience? Do you want a run-of-the-mill termination or something more exotic?”

“Who the hell wants to feel the experience of dying?”

“You’d be surprised. There are some people who want to embrace their last moments on earth. I’m told they think that’s when they feel most alive.”

“That’s whacko.”

“Preaching to the choir here, Frankie.” Just a couple of pals. “What do you mean by exotic?”

Benjamin leans back in his chair and stares up at the ceiling for a moment, collecting his thoughts. “Well, there was one we did a few years back that struck me as outside the lines, as well as being spectacularly challenging.”

“What was that?”

“Piranha attack. And he lived in the city.” “No shit?”

“That one took some serious production to pull off. We had to bring in twice our normal crew. But it was worth it; the ratings were outstanding.”

“How outstanding?” I ask.

“Are you familiar with ratings?” “A little.”

Benjamin taps on his glass tablet. “Piranha attack …… 48.8 rating, 71 share.”

He informs me that a rating point is a percentage of the total viewing population being polled and the share is the percentage of that population that’s watching at that moment. So that meant almost half of the country was watching and 70 percent of those who had their TVs, computers, or optics on were tuned in. I wonder what the other 30 percent were watching.

“Holy crap! Those are Super World Bowl numbers.”

“Actually, a little higher.”

“And I read that a thirty-second ad in that game runs for ten million dollars.”

Benjamin ruminates for a beat. “10.2, last I checked.”

This is where the rubber meets the road, where the money comes into play.

“So, how does it work? Money-wise, I mean.”

Benjamin clasps his hands in front of him and his face takes on an astonishing look of grace. I don’t know what they are paying him, but it isn’t enough.

My brain is having a difficult time reconciling the fact that this man who looks and sounds like a warm bath works for a company that kills people for profit.

“Certainly,” he says. “This is why you’ve come in. So your family will be sufficiently provided for after your passing.”

His demeanor strikes me as that of a funeral director talking costs for the casket, flowers, and organist. A tricky balancing act. Put the client at ease while doing your job to assure you’re keeping the company in the black, so the owner can continue to pay his gas bill, the mortgage, and take his kids to Disneyland.

“If you choose to move forward with our services you will pay a fee, earnest money, as it were, again based on some of the criteria I listed earlier—time frame, complexity.” Benjamin pauses for an instant, like it’s important to him that the following line land properly. “The up-front fee is to ensure we aren’t seen as preying on the desperate.”

“I can see how some might get that impression,” I reply with a straight face.

Benjamin smiles at my understanding. “Once our service is rendered and your passing is confirmed, your designee—the dependent, as it were—will receive a percentage of the advertising revenue brought in by the televised production.”

“And I’m guessing the more elaborate the production, the higher the ratings, and therefore more money for the . . . what did you call it? The designee?”

Benjamin cocks an eyebrow. “Usually, but not necessarily. I’ve seen some pretty pedestrian terminations receive quite robust ratings because of the backstory involved.”


“Well, a background that may give the episode a little more drama. Let me give you an example.” Benjamin does the glance-at-the-ceiling thing again, drawing on memories. “There was one episode where the method of death was a simple blow up. Explosives set to go off at a designated time and location. Nothing overly dramatic. But what gave it an extra twist was that on the day of the scheduled event our client decided to take his dog for a walk. An unexpected deviation from his normal schedule. We were embarrassingly unprepared for this. All our research gave us a 99 percent chance that he would be alone at the time of detonation. But as fate would have it, that miscue on our part became a ratings bonanza.”

“What did taking his dog for a walk have to do with any of that?” I ask.


Chris miller had no idea Max, the gray-muzzled little lab mix padding alongside him, was causing conniptions in a television studio four states away. Well, padding was generous, it was more like limping, or waddling; Max was pushing ninety-eight in people years and built like a kielbasa sausage—mostly due to Chris’s soft heart and table scraps. Chris figured Max could eat anything he damn well pleased for as long as he lived. Seven years previously, Chris and Max had been hiking in Zion National Park when Chris fell down a crevasse and was pinned. He only had enough water to last about a day. But Max had run for help, just like in the classic Timmy-fell-down-the-well scenario. Ever since, Chris spoiled his aging mutt mercilessly.

And that’s what the people in the television studio hadn’t foreseen. “How long before he’s at the optimal detonation coordinates?” asked the director. He dabbed an already moist handkerchief across his brow for the dozenth time in the last fifteen minutes.

“Ten minutes,” replied the field producer, an edge to her voice. She was crumpling and uncrumpling a paper cup in her fist that moments earlier had been half filled with water which she had slugged down, desperately wishing it was something stronger. “My team has the space cleared. No civilians present. At least for now. For the time being, everything is go.”

Nothing was go, thought the director. Things were far from go. But he had to keep a lid on it. He glanced up at the bank of monitors covering the control room wall. A half dozen or so showed audiences from around the globe watching the action. Most at impromptu Death Warrant parties. The public did seem to bond in these instances. The director liked to see how the audience was reacting to the circumstances; it helped him craft the story arc and emotional payout by seeing first-hand what they were responding to. At that moment the audience members were generally freaking out. Nobody wanted to see a cute, albeit fat, little dog blown to bits. In the pre-show the audience is given the opportunity to know the method of termination. It was impossible to guess which way they’d lean from episode to episode. Sometimes they wanted to know, other times they wanted to be surprised.

On this night, however, the votes were for knowing. When the hosts shared that the death would be delivered by explosion, the initial reaction was overwhelmingly positive. Detonation was always a crowd pleaser. But the closer they got to boom-time, the antsier the audience became. They didn’t know the exact moment, but they did know that a little dog was more than likely going to be caught in the line of fire. Thus, the freaking out.

“How could nobody have seen this coming?” shouted a large, imposing executive from the back of the room, a hint of a German accent in his voice. Not a soul dared make eye contact or a feeble excuse; that would have been career suicide. In circumstances like this they resorted to their training, experience, and professionalism, which ran in abundance in this control room. They were the cream of the crop and liked to think they were prepared for any emergency.

The director turned to a small, earnest looking man huddled over a computer screen in the corner of the studio. “Stats. What the hell? Why the dog? He was supposed to be solo.”

The lead statistician gave a shrug. “Over the past 245 days since the job was approved, the featured participant made a nightly walk to this park 232 times.” The man glanced back down to his monitor. “He always left between 6:00 and 6:10 p.m.” The statistician turned back to the director. “It was, to use a more colloquial term, his evening constitutional. You could set your watch by him. Over those 232 times he brought his dog along a grand total of two times.” The man pointed at his screen. “Based on our numbers, the odds of the featured participant taking the dog were less than 1 percent. Well below our threshold.”

The field producer cleared her throat. “Uh, evidently one of those new doggy cafes just opened on the far side of the park. You know, one of those trendy coffee shops that sell dog biscuits along with cappuccinos? Our, um, best guess is that Mr. Miller may be taking his dog there for a treat.”

Back over in the corner, the statistician shrugged again. “Human nature is always the wild card.”


Excerpt from Death Warrant by Bryan Johnston. Copyright 2022 by Bryan Johnston. Reproduced with permission from Bryan Johnston. All rights reserved.



Author Bio:

Bryan Johnston

Bryan Johnston takes tremendous pride in being an eleven-time Emmy award-winning writer and producer during his 25 years in local network television. Following his career in broadcast, he became the Creative Director for a Seattle-based creative agency, developing concepts and writing scripts for companies like Microsoft, Starbucks, T-Mobile, and Amazon. He has authored several books and written for numerous magazines and websites. Bryan lives in the Seattle, Washington area with his wife, two kids, and one large Goldendoodle. He is a devout movie lover, sports fan, and avid reader. His one great hope is for the Seattle Mariners to make it to the World Series before he dies. He's not holding his breath.

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