The Women Science Fiction Fans Don’t See

Today, I’m over at Galactic Journey again, where I review the 1964 science fiction books Message from the Eocene and Three World of Futurity, both by Margaret St. Clair as part of the December Galactoscope. Furthermore, our editor Gideon Marcus also reviews The Greks Bring Gifts (not a typo) by Murray Leinster, The Arsenal of Miracles by Gardner F. Fox and Endless Shadow by John Brunner, all of which sound more promising than they evidently were. Meanwhile, I hit the jackpot, because I got to review two excellent books.

Margaret St. Clair is one of several women science fiction writers from the Golden and Silver Age who have sadly fallen into the cracks of genre history. From that era, the only women authors who are still widely remembered and reprinted today are Leigh Brackett, C.L. Moore and Andre Norton – everybody else is more or less obscure. Furthermore, Brackett and Moore have undergone something of a rediscovery in recent times – at any rate I remember a time in the late 1980s/early 1990s when their work was out of print and very hard to find. It’s also notable that while Brackett and Moore have done well in recent Retro Hugo Awards, they were almost completely ignored in the Retro Hugo Awards given out in the 1990s, in spite of having eligible works that are often better than what actually made the ballot. As for Andre Norton, the reason she is still remembered fairly well is because she was so very prolific and because much her work was aimed at young readers, so her books were a gateway into science fiction for many fans.

Margaret St. Clair was about the same age as Brackett, Moore and Norton. She debuted several years after Brackett and Moore, around the same time as Norton, but is much less remembered today. I knew her mainly as the author of the Wiccan-influenced Sign of the Labrys (Margaret St. Clair and her husband were both Quakers and Wiccan, which is certainly an interesting combination), but hadn’t read anything by her otherwise. Which is a pity, because – at least based on the sample of her work I’ve read – Margaret St. Clair was really, really good and a lot more versatile than just writing Wiccan inspired fantasy.

Of the two books I reviewed, the novel Message from the Eocene is very trippy, very 1960s and very good. It literally spans billions of years, the main protagonist is a disembodied alien spirit with massive communication issues, who eventually helps to usher in the Age of Aquarius. That’s not all, the novel also is at turns a Hal Clement style “truly alien aliens in an alien environment” story, a Victorian ghost story, a galactic suburbia style science fiction tale which attempts to grapple with the consequences of colonialism and even contains a bonus comment on the Vietnam War, which was just heating up as the story was written, and a mid 1960s space exploration story in which a multinational, Iron Curtain overcoming spaceship crew finds something amazing during the second mission to Venus. And Margaret St. Clair manages to pack all this and more into a short novel (114 mass market paperback pages) by modern standards. In fact, Message from the Eocene was so good that I wondered, “How the hell did this not even make the 1965 Hugo shortlist, especially since it’s much better than the book that eventually won?”

The second half of this Ace Double is a collection of short stories, originally published between 1949 and 1962, which really showcase the breadth and versatility of Margaret St. Clair’s work. Two are galactic suburbia stories, a term I couldn’t use over at Galactic Journey, because Joanna Russ only coined it in 1970, even though it is perfect to describe a certain type of domestic science fiction, often sharply satirical, occasionally dystopian or tragic, that usually focusses on the travails of typical suburban American mid century couples or families in a very mid century vision of the future and that was mostly, though not exclusively, written by women. Joanna Russ’ use of the term is perjorative, but that’s unfair, because I have read some very fine galactic suburbia stories. Yes, they are very much artefacts of their time – literally Mad Men era science fiction – but they are usually critical of the suburban middle class mid century lifestyle and sometimes downright subversive. One of the stories, “The Rages” mixes galactic suburbia science fiction with the consumerist dystopias of Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451. “The Rages” also casually predicts the hormonal birth control pill, but that isn’t such a remarkably feat considering that the pill was already in development when the story came out in 1954, though it would not become available to the general public until 1960. Coincidentally, “The Rages” is also where Equilibrium, the 2002 dystopian movie which borrowed from every dystopian novel it could find and added good martial arts choreography and a fine performance by Christian Bale, stole the bit with the mandatory behaviour modifying drugs from. Well, I guess it was too much to expect that a movie as derivative as Equilibrium contains a single original idea.

Another story “The Island of the Hands” is very much Leigh Brackett type planetary romance adventure and in fact so reminiscent of the slightly earlier Leigh Brackett story “The Moon That Vanished” that I’m pretty sure Margaret St. Clair must have known the story, if she didn’t know Brackett personally. They both lived in California, after all. And then there is a story (“The Everlasting Food”) which mixes Leigh Brackett style planetary romance and galactic suburbia science fiction, a subgenre combination I haven’t sene before. Even Leigh Brackett wrote straight galactic suburbia science fiction in the few instances that she did (“The Tweener” is probably the best known), but did not mix both styles.

Finally, there are two truly remarkable stories, if for very different reasons. One story, “Idris’ Pig” is pretty much a screwball comedy set on Mars. It’s delightful, hilarious and – as I wrote over at Galactic Journey – pretty much Bringing Up Baby on Mars, with a blueskinned and sacred Martian pig instead of a lost dinosaur bone. Now the funny side of the Golden Age is often forgotten today, partly because the humor is badly dated and partly because science fiction is a serious genre, dammit, and we will have no laughs here, unless written by Douglas Adams. But while I have read quite a few examples of funny Golden Age science fiction, none of them were as charming and delightful as “Idris’ Pig”. So why is this story not the beloved classic it deserves to be?

The other remarkable story in this collection is “Roberta”. It is a science fiction story with a transwoman protagonist – from 1962! And it is not one of those magical/semi-magical sex change stories that occasionally pop up during the Golden Age – no, the titular character has had sex reassignment surgery, though I could not use that term over at Galactic Journey, because it didn’t yet exist in 1964. Of course, sex reassignment surgery was hardly science fiction even back in 1962, but had been science fact for more than thirty years at that point. It wasn’t even that taboo a subject in popular culture – Ed Wood’s Glen or Glenda came out in 1953, nine years before “Roberta”. But it was not a subject science fiction chose to tackle at the time. But while “Roberta” was a clearly pioneering story (the word “abortion” is even uttered on the page and implied to be a regular and not very bad occurrence, which is something that is rare even today), it is also highly problematic, because the transwoman protagonist is also mentally ill and tends to kill random men (to be fair, they were arseholes). Joachim Boaz is unsure what the make of the portrayal in his review of Three Worlds of Futurity and Rich Horton, who reviewed the same Ace Double here, found the story transphobic. He is correct, for viewed through a modern lens, it absolutely is.

However, one of the issues with older science fiction (and indeed any older fiction) that tries to be more progressive than what was common at the time and features marginalised people that were rarely depicted elsewhere is that quite often, the results are badly stereotyped and sometimes downright offensive to modern readers, even if it is clear that the story was well intentioned. You can see this at several points in this Ace Double. For example, the parts of Message from the Eocene that are clearly critical of colonialism and state that the anger of the colonised at their colonisers is justified nonetheless manage to present the colonised people the narrative clearly sympathises with as superstitious and backwards and in need of a white, if not American saviour. Early attempts to address issues that are either taboo or rarely discussed often tend to be offensive – see how badly Dynasty handled Steven Carrington, one of the first gay characters in mainstream television. Maybe the first writers to address a subject that hasn’t been talked about before need to seek out every pitfall and put their foot in it first, before those that can come after can do better. And that process can take a long time.

So even if the magical sex change stories of the golden age and later works like Glen or Glenda (I’m sort of coopting it for SFF here) or “Roberta” are offensive to modern readers, they remind us that trans people (and women, people of colour and LGBTQ people in general) were always there, always a part of our genre and did not simply fall from the sky in approximately 2010.

Message from the Eocene and Three Worlds of Futurity were both huge and pleasant surprises for me and make me all the more sad that Margaret St. Clair isn’t better remembered. Of her three better women SFF writer contemporaries, Andre Norton was named an SFWA grandmaster, C.L. Moore was offered grandmaster status, but her husband declined on her behalf and Leigh Brackett died too early. Maragret St. Clair lived until 1995. She never became an SFWA grandmaster, though at least some of her works are in print (again).

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Two new In Love and War stories and a new Thurvok story

It’s another commercial break of sorts, because I have not one but three new releases to announce. One of them is even a short novel. In fact, I’d hoped to announce those new releases before, but one vendor (24symbols – cough) was really dragging their feet to get the books up.

Let’s start with the two new In Love and War stories.

Mementos and Memories is another story to come out of the 2019 July short story challenge. The inspiration for this story was was the backcover blurb of a Jack Reacher novel, The Midnight Line by Lee Child, of all things. According to the blurb, Jack Reacher spots a West Point class ring in the window of a pawn shop and sets out to locate the owner, because no one would ever willingly give up such a ring. When I read the blurb, I thought, “Wow, this would be a great plot for an In Love and War story.” So I sent Mikhail and Anjali shopping in an intriguing environment and had them come across a Shakyri dagger.

Now I haven’t read The Midnight Line (I’m way behind on the Jack Reacher series), so I have no idea where Lee Child took his story. According to the summary, it involves the opoid crisis. Knowing the Jack Reacher series, I suspect there will be quite a lot of action and violence. That said, I’m pretty sure that Anjali and Mikhail would get along just swimmingly with Jack Reacher, should they ever find themselves in the same universe.

I sometimes call the In Love and War series cozy space opera and Mementos and Memories definitely falls onto the cozier end of the series. For following the trail of the dagger leads Anjali and Mikhail to a sweet elderly couple and a decades old tale of forbidden love. Because in an eighty-eight year war (actually, eighty-nine years by now), it’s kind of obvious that Anjali and Mikhail can hardly be the first to fall in love across the lines.

So follow along, as Anjali and Mikhail investigate…

Mementos and Memories
Mementos and Memories by Cora BuhlertOnce, Anjali Patel and Mikhail Grikov were soldiers on opposing sides of an intergalactic war. They met, fell in love and decided to go on the run together.

Now Anjali and Mikhail are trying to eke out a living on the independent worlds of the galactic rim, while attempting to stay under the radar of those pursuing them.

At a market on the tropical ocean world of Sentosa, Anjali and Mikhail come across a dagger for sale. This dagger is the signature weapon of the Imperial Shakyri Corps, and Anjali knows that no Shakyri warrior would ever willingly part with their dagger. So Anjali and Mikhail go in search of the lawful owner of the dagger and come across a long forgotten tale of forbidden love…

This is a story of 7300 words or approximately 25 print pages in the In Love and War series, but may be read as a standalone.

More information.
Length: 7300 words
List price: 0.99 USD, EUR or GBP
Buy it at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon France, Amazon Netherlands, Amazon Spain, Amazon Italy, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Amazon Brazil, Amazon Japan, Amazon India, Amazon Mexico, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iTunes, Google Play, Scribd, Smashwords, Thalia, Weltbild, Hugendubel, Buecher.de, DriveThruFiction, Casa del Libro, e-Sentral, 24symbols and XinXii.

If Mementos and Memories sits on the cozy end of the In Love and War series, Honourable Enemies sits on the opposite end, since it’s grimmer, grittier and has a lot more action. And gladiator fights in space, because who doesn’t love gladiator fights in space? Though there is also a food scene, because it wouldn’t be an In Love and War story without a food scene.

The basic idea behind Honourable Enemies was “What if Anjali and Mikhail were forced to work together with their greatest enemy, Mikhail’s former commander Colonel Brian Mayhew of the Republican Special Commando Forces?”

Now Brian Mayhew was initially conceived as as a rather one-dimensional antagonist whose only purpose it was to hunt down Anjali and Mikhail, a task he was very zealous about. You can see this version of Brian Mayhew in action in Bullet Holes and also in Freedom’s Horizon to a certain degree.

However, one day I was musing about the overall arc of the In Love and War series, particularly about a later novel in the series and something Mayhew does in that novel. I can’t say what exactly, because that would be a spoiler, but let’s just say it’s something pretty awful.

And suddenly, I heard Brian Mayhew’s booming voice in my head (yes, my characters talk to me on occasion), saying, “I wouldn’t do that. What do you take me for? I’m not a villain and I’m certainly not a monster.”

“Ahem, actually you are a villain,” I pointed out. “Or how do you explain all this?” And then I listed a lot of questionable to downright villainous things he had done.

“Well, about that…” Mayhew said and gave me a variation of the “It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it and besides, I was just following orders” monologue.

I listened to all that and finally said, “All right, so let’s assume for a moment that you’re not a villain. Nonetheless, you’ve manoeuvred yourself into a situation where you have to do something awful. And you really can’t tell me you didn’t see that coming. So if you’re not a villain, what are you going to do about it?”

So he told me. And I suddenly realised just who this character was, namely the grizzled maverick space captain who is the hero of so many traditional space operas, turned reluctant villain. He became a lot more interesting as a character after that.

In the prequel novella Evacuation Order, we get see an unambiguously heroic Brian Mayhew before he joined the Special Commando Forces and also learn just why there is such a strong connection between him and Mikhail. There’s a little bit about Mayhew’s ongoing conflict with the Santerna brothers in that story, too.

And in Honourable Enemies, we finally learn what it takes to make Mayhew act against orders and go AWOL, ironically the very same offenses for which he persecutes Mikhail and Anjali so very mercilessly. A lot of the novel is told from his point of view, so we get a lot more insight into who Brian Mayhew is and what makes him tick. We also get to see Brian Mayhew in hero mode once more (even Anjali has to admit that) and we get the first hint that Mayhew is no more happy with the things he’s forced to do for the greater good than Mikhail.

Another strong influence on Honourable Enemies were the Italian sword and sandal epics that filled the airwaves when I was a kid. Now I grew up in the era of only three TV channels, which mostly focussed on wholesome and educational programming and felt that even Porky Pig of all things was too violent. However, for reasons best known to themselves, these wholesome and educational channels would broadcast Italian sword and sandal movies, which were anything but and a lot more violent than Porky Pig, too, on Sunday afternoons.

Those 1960s sword and sandal films were one of the most exciting things on TV in those days, featuring attractive women with fabulous hairstyles, scantily clad muscular men I found oddly pleasant to look at (there is a reason Arena fighters have to wear synth-leather shorts in the novel) and danger, death traps and narrow escapes galore. And at the climax, there was always a huge fight in the Arena, where the hero, his lover and all their friends were about to be executed and yet triumphed against all odds over wild beasts, enemy gladiators and death traps (unless it was a Hollywood attempt at a sword and sandal film, where everybody would die in the end and ascend to heaven singing Christian hymns).

I loved those movies and like anything you consume during an impressionable age, they left their mark on me and eventually found their way into my writing. And so I not only wrote a space gladiator novel, but I also named the world and many of its people after characters and actors from vintage sword and sandal films.

Maciste is the hero of a long-running series of sword and sandal movies that goes all the way back to the silent era. Maciste first appeared in 1914 in a historical epic called Cabiria, which was written by none other than Gabriele D’Annunzio himself. Cabiria eventually became the name of the capital of Maciste. The actor who portrayed the character of Maciste in all his silent film appearances was named Bartolomeo Pangano and was a dockworker before his film career. I borrowed his name for the Arena champion (who also used to be a dockworker before his gladiator career). And in fact, all Arena fighters are named after actors who played Maciste in various movies.

So follow along as Anjali and Mikhail are forced to work with their greatest enemy, Colonel Brian Mayhew of the Special Commando Forces, and have to face certain death in the Great Arena of Maciste in…

Honourable Enemies
Honourable Enemies by Cora BuhlertOnce, Colonel Brian Mayhew was the deputy commander of the Republican Special Commando Forces. But now he’s gone AWOL to take out crime lord Rick Santerna, the man who murdered his family.

Mayhew’s quest for vengeance brings him to the rim world of Maciste, where he runs into his former protégé Mikhail Grikov, now wanted as a traitor and deserter for eloping with enemy soldier Anjali Patel.

Mayhew knows that it’s his duty to bring in Mikhail and Anjali. But with Santerna hot his tail, he finds that he needs their help.

Mikhail and Anjali know that Brian Mayhew is a threat to their freedom and their new life together. But now they are faced with a hard choice. Should they risk their lives to help a man who could condemn them both to death or should they let Mayhew die in the Great Arena of Maciste?

More information.
Length: 57000 words
List price: 3.99 USD, EUR or 2.99 GBP
Buy it at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon France, Amazon Netherlands, Amazon Spain, Amazon Italy, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Amazon Brazil, Amazon Japan, Amazon India, Amazon Mexico, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iTunes, Google Play, Scribd, Smashwords, Thalia, Weltbild, Hugendubel, Buecher.de, DriveThruFiction, Casa del Libro, e-Sentral, 24symbols and XinXii.

However, I’m not the only one who has a new release to announce. Richard Blakemore, hardworking pulp fiction writer by day and the masked vigilante only known as the Silencer by night, also has a new release to announce.

Now one of the risks of having a character who’s also a writer is that he occasionally wants you to write one of his stories for him. This is how the Thurvok series came to be. And now Richard wants to branch out into science fiction, too, though you won’t get to see the results until next year. Initially, I never wanted to use a pen name, but by now I actually like having a name under which I can publish deliberately retro stories and distinguish them from my other work. And besides, I make it very clear that Richard is me.

Like most of the Thurvok stories to date, The Temple of the Snake God came out of the July short story challenge. Like many of the July short story challenge stories, The Temple of the Snake God was partly inspired by a piece of fantasy art, namely the 1970 painting “Green Death” by Frank Frazetta.

The other inspiration was what eventually became the first line of the story, as uttered by Meldom, “It’s an easy job. Go in, grab the eye of the idol and get out.” Of course, anybody who has read any of the Thurvok stories knows that Meldom’s easy jobs inevitably come with a catch.

Zanya did not appear in the initial draft of the story. But when I was looking for cover art, I came across the perfect image. There was only one problem. The image featured a beautiful black warrior woman, but there was no such character in the story itself. So I thought, “Why don’t I write such a character into the story?” And so, Zanya was born, a young woman who wants to save her sister from being sacrificed to the snake god Tseghirun. In retrospect, the story works actually better with the addition of Zanya, because she gives our heroes a concrete reason to deviate from their original plan and rescue the girls. The girls actually did get rescued in the original draft, too, but our heroes simply deciding to do the right thing made for a weaker story overall. Not to mention that I like Zanya a lot and will certainly revisit her one day.

Some people will probably believe that a black woman would never have appeared as a heroic character in an actual 1930s pulp story. They are wrong, for in fact, there were quite a few pulp stories which featured characters of colour in non-stereotyped and even heroic roles. The most famous examples are probably Eric John Stark, Leigh Brackett’s interplanetary adventurer, and Josh and Rosabel Newton, an educated African American couple who aided the pulp hero The Avenger, but there are several others. Of course, Zanya would likely not have been featured on the cover of an actual 1930s pulp magazine. Even Eric John Stark was not depicted as a black man on the covers of his own adventures until 2008, almost sixty years after the character was introduced in the pages of Planet Stories.

So accompany Thurvok, Meldom, Sharenna, Lysha and Zanya as they venture into…

The Temple of the Snake God
The Temple of the Snake God by Cora BuhlertIt was supposed to be an easy job. Go in, grab the eye of the idol and get out.

But the temple of the snake god Tseghirun turns out to be unexpectedly busy, when Thurvok, the sellsword, and his friends, Meldom, thief, cutpurse and occasional assassin, the sorceress Sharenna and Meldom’s sweetheart Lysha attempt to steal the eye. Not only is there a ceremony going on at the temple, no, the cultists are also about to sacrifice several young girls to the snake god Tseghirun. And so what started out as a simple heist quickly turns into a rescue mission.

This is a short story of 6200 words or approximately 22 print pages in the Thurvok sword and sorcery series, but may be read as a standalone. Includes an introduction and afterword.

More information.
Length: 6200 words
List price: 0.99 USD, EUR or GBP
Buy it at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon France, Amazon Netherlands, Amazon Spain, Amazon Italy, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Amazon Brazil, Amazon Japan, Amazon India, Amazon Mexico, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iTunes, Google Play, Scribd, Smashwords, Thalia, Weltbild, Hugendubel, Buecher.de, DriveThruFiction, Casa del Libro, e-Sentral, 24symbols and XinXii.

By the way, you can also get both the entire In Love and War series and the entire Thurvok series in a handy bundle at a reduced price at DriveThruFiction.

And that’s it for today. There will be at least one more new release announcement before the holidays. I hope to publish a Christmas story this year – after all, I have been publishing a holiday story every year since 2013. And Richard Blakemore has also been busy, both as the Silencer and the author of the Thurvok stories. I’ll also have some non-book announcements to make.

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December Commercial Break

I have more posts coming up soon, including a long overdue multiple new release announcement as well as the announcement of a new project.

However, if you’re looking for some cheap and free books (and who isn’t?), I have a couple of sales and giveaways to announce:

Historical fiction author Marian L. Thorpe has organised a sale for stories set in the Middle Ages. There are romances, historical fantasies, adventure stories, straight historicals, etc…, all for sale, including two of mine, so check it out.

If crime fiction is more your thing, there also is a giveaway for crime thrillers and vigilante fiction running at StoryOrigins. Thirteen books, including Countdown to Death, available for free, if you sign up for the respective author’s newsletter (Don’t worry, you can always unsubscribe later on). So what are you waiting for? Check it out!

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First Monday Free Fiction: The Bakery on Gloomland Street

Welcome to the December edition of First Monday Free Fiction. To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on every first Monday of the month. It will remain free to read on this blog for one month, then I’ll take it down and post another story.

The Bakery on Gloomland StreetSince it’s December, it’s the perfect time to post a holiday story. I have quite a few holiday stories available, but this time around, I have chosen The Bakery on Gloomland Street, a holiday novelette in my Hallowind Cove series about a quirky seaside town where strange things keep happening.

So follow along as baker Rachel Hammersmith and and Paul MacQuarie, two newcomers to Hallowind Cove, prepare to save the town from a holiday menace via tasty holiday pastries and fall in love along the way in…

 

 

The Bakery on Gloomland Street

A Hallowind Cove Christmas Story

At Christmas time, Hallowind Cove, the little seaside town known as the harbour of the weird, was even weirder than usual.

For starters, the fog, which enveloped the town about three hundred and forty days per year, tended to blend with the Christmas lights that the residents were putting up all over. And as a result, the entire town was plunged into an unearthly neon Technicolor fairy tale glow.

What was more, winter was also the time of storms, when gale-force winds buffeted the coast and the harbour and caused the waves to crash against the cliffs. Most of the time, the storms only brought rain, torrents of it drenching the entire town. But sometimes, when the weather conditions were just right, the storms also brought snow, blizzards of it blanketing the entire town in a cloud of white.

And when snow, storm and fog met the magical glow cast by the Christmas lights that bedecked the entire town — well, that was the time when truly magical things could happen.

***

Rachel Hammersmith hadn’t been long in Hallowind Cove. She’d arrived at the height of summer, on one of those rare few days when the sun was shining and there was not a single wisp of fog. On days like these, Hallowind Cove looked just like any other charming seaside village with gingerbread houses, quaint little shops and a marina where people with more money than sense and the urgent desire to invest said money in luxury yachts could moor their boats.

Rachel had arrived on one of those yachts as a passenger, invited for a sailing trip by a client who’d hoped to get into her knickers. The client didn’t get what he wanted and threatened to fire her firm, but in the end that didn’t matter. For once Rachel had laid eyes on Hallowind Cove, she was lost, hopeless enchanted by the gingerbread houses and quaint little shops and the fairy tale atmosphere of the whole place.

Walking along Gloomland Street — and the name really should have tipped her off — Rachel had come upon the sweetest little bakery on the corner of Gloomland and Mistcove Street. The display windows were full of elegant gateaux, frothy cupcakes, delicious looking cookies and other pastry delights, so Rachel entered the shop and promptly felt as if she’d stepped through a timewarp back into the Victorian era.

“Good morning, my dear. What can I do for you on this lovely summer’s day?” a woman in a starched white apron greeted her from behind the mahogany bakery counter.

“I… I’m still deciding,” Rachel stammered, completely entranced by the marvellous pastries on offer.

“Of course, my dear. Just let me know when you’ve decided. Would you like a coffee, by any chance? Or maybe some tea?”

“Coffee would be nice, th… thank you,” Rachel had stammered.

“Of course, dear. My name’s Percht, by the way. Marie Percht. My family has been here in Hallowind Cove since my ancestors stepped off the boat back in 1848.”

Rachel looked up at Miss Percht and held out her hand. “I’m Rachel Hammersmith.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Miss Percht said and shook Rachel’s hand, before the telltale sting of a static electric shock caused Rachel to jerk her hand away.

That little incident should really have tipped her off that something was very wrong here. But then who would distrust someone like Marie Percht? Her cheeks were apple-red, her hair iron grey and pulled back into a knot underneath a frilly cap, making her look just like a kindly grandmother from a fairy tale. But like so many fairy tale grandmothers, this sweet elderly lady was in truth a big bad wolf in disguise underneath that frilly lace cap.

And so, while Rachel was still trying to decide between a slice of black forest gateau and a red velvet cupcake, she spotted the one thing in the bakery display that she really wanted.

It was a discrete sign that said, “Bakery for sale. Inquire for price.”

“Is… is this right?” Rachel asked, “You’re selling the bakery?”

“Yes, my dear,” Miss Percht said, “I inherited the bakery from my Pops and have been here all my life. But I want to spend the rest of my days in sunnier and warmer climes. Why? Are you perchance interested?”

“I…”

In her most secret, most out there fantasies, Rachel sometimes dreamt of quitting her job, accepting a generous pay-out for the partnership and using the money to settle down in a quiet little town and open a cupcake shop. Then she’d spent the rest of her life doing what she really loved, baking cupcakes and cookies and other pastries. She promised herself she’d do this when she was older, forty, forty-five, maybe even fifty.

But here was her chance. The magical little town, the bakery, it was all here. Her dream come true. All she had to do was reach out and take it.

“Yes, actually I am interested,” she heard herself saying, though her mind hadn’t yet made itself up, “So how much is the bakery?”

The price Miss Percht named was ridiculously low, which should really have tipped Rachel off that something wasn’t quite right here. But she was too enchanted by the town and the bakery to notice or care. Besides, so Miss Percht assured her, the sales price even included her stash of secret family recipes, handed down from father to son to daughter all the way back to the old continent.

Really, how could Rachel resist?

And so, within the span of barely a week, she’d quit her job, received a most generous pay-out and bought the bakery, the secret recipes and the house that went with both from Miss Percht.

Overjoyed, Miss Percht took the money and promptly retired to Florida, where it was sunny and warm and where “fog” was just a word that described somebody else’s problem.

Meanwhile, Rachel was stuck in Hallowind Cove, where the fog reigned supreme for three hundred and forty days of year.

Though at first, she didn’t much mind or even notice the fog. For Rachel was busy, very busy indeed. She had a new home to furnish, after all, not to mention a bakery to run, cupcakes and pastries to bake, recipes to try out. And yes, Miss Percht’s collection of secret family recipes was every bit the treasure trove that she’d promised. So for the first two weeks or so, Rachel only saw the fog through the windows of the bakery. And though she wondered a bit about the thick, white mist outside, her little bakery was cozy and warm and everything she’d ever wanted in her life.

At times, she felt like the heroine in one of those silly little mystery novels she liked to read, the ones with the cartoony covers, where the heroine was an accomplished cupcake baker who kept stumbling over dead bodies and uncovered the identity of the killer and stupidly walked into his or her lair, only to be saved at the last minute by the local sheriff who was inevitably male, hot, hunky and single.

Though there were no dead bodies to stumble upon in Hallowind Cove, though there was apparently a talking raven and a ghost down by the docks — or so the locals claimed. There was a sheriff as well, a gentleman who bore the picturesque name of Alastair Angus Aberdeen, but he was in his fifties with grey hair and a pot-belly and married besides. Though he did frequently drop by at the bakery to buy chocolate vanilla eclairs and lemon sprinkle doughnuts.

By now, summer had turned into autumn and the trees in Twilight Gardens, the little park down the street, were taking on gorgeous fall colours — or at least they would, if you could actually see anything in the mist. Because the fog played tricks on the eyes to the point that during her morning jogging round, Rachel sometimes thought she saw people standing around in Twilight Gardens, shadowy forms in the mist. But when she came closer, there was no one there, which was rather creepy. Still, it was autumn and fog was normal in autumn, wasn’t it?

Then came November and the days grew shorter, the wind grew stronger and the fog grew thicker. And Rachel finally realised that something was not at all right in Hallowind Cove. But by then, it was too late. She’d left her old life behind, quit her job, sold her flat, bought the bakery. And now she was stuck here with nothing to do but make the best of it.

Thank heavens, the holiday season was approaching, which meant new recipes to try out. So Rachel made gingerbread and cinnamon stars and vanilla crescents and other holiday cookies. She baked peppernuts and Spekulatius and Christstollen and even spit cake. Finally, she also decorated the bakery with holly branches and fairy lights. And in spite of the fog that blanketed the town and the winter storms that brought first rain and then snow, she was content.

***

One day, when Rachel was returning from her morning run in Twilight Gardens, the snow seeping through her sneakers, she spotted something big and dark fluttering through the fog. Startled, she came to a halt, turned around and found herself face to face with a raven who was sitting on the wrought iron fence that separated Twilight Gardens from Gloomland Street.

Rachel let out a breath she hadn’t realised she was holding.

“Oh, it’s you. You scared me half to death, you know?”

“Sor-ry,” the raven croaked.

“Oh my goodness, I’m cracking up,” Rachel said, “I’m not just talking to a bird, I’m also convinced he’s answering me.”

The raven’s name was Hugo and the locals seemed to believe that he could talk. But though the raven certainly had an impressive repertory of croaks and squeaks that could sound like speech at times, very little of what he said ever made any sense.

Case in point: “Kram-pus,” the raven croaked.

“That’s nice, Hugo,” Rachel said, “And I’m sure it’s very important, at least to you. But why don’t you bother someone else, cause I have to fire up the oven and open the bakery.”

“Kram-pus is co-ming,” Hugo croaked.

“See, Hugo. Now that was really good. That was not just an almost complete sentence, but a pop culture reference, too. Now if you’d only said, ‘Winter is coming’, you’d have been golden. Or maybe not, cause winter is already here.”

“Wa-arned you,” Hugo croaked and fluttered away.

Rachel looked after him and shook her head. Sometimes, it seemed to her as if he really could talk. Then she continued her jog, doing her best to ignore the cold.

***

Later that morning, Rachel put a tray of fragrant vanilla crescents, still hot from the oven, into the bakery display. She was about to return to the bakery proper behind the shop, when the doorbell chimed, its sound like the silver bell laughter of fairies and angels getting their wings.

Rachel looked up and saw Sheriff Alastair Angus Aberdeen entering her shop, hat in hand and tan uniform stretched tight across his pot-belly.

“Hello, Sheriff,” Rachel said, “The usual?”

She took a box and was about to fill it up with lemon sprinkle doughnuts and chocolate vanilla eclairs, when she noticed that the sheriff wasn’t alone. For filing into the bakery behind him were Wilbur W. Orville, the mayor of Hallowind Cove, Father Benedict MacGillicuddy, the local priest, Dr. Marvin Cuttlefish, curator of the town museum, Ian Rayburn, landlord of The Croaking Foghorn down by the docks and Paul MacQuarie, who’d moved to Hallowind Cove shortly before Rachel and now lived in a shambling old house a bit down the street.

With the six men, five of them important pillars of the community, lined up inside the shop, Rachel’s little bakery suddenly seemed very small indeed. What was more, Rachel had the sneaking suspicion that they didn’t all just happen to get a hankering for pastries at exactly the same time.

“So, gentlemen…” Rachel said, facing the delegation, “…what can I do for you?”

“Miss Hammersmith, we need your help,” Mayor Orville began.

“It is of utmost importance that you listen to us,” Sheriff Aberdeen added.

“Local lore and tradition require your assistance,” Dr. Cuttlefish declared.

“Only you can save Christmas for all the good people of Hallowind Cove,” Father MacGillicuddy implored.

“And besides, you really wouldn’t want to piss off Krampus,” Ian Rayburn added darkly, while Father MacGillicuddy looked scandalised at his choice of words.

Only you can save Christmas? Honestly? Who did they think she was, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer?

“I’m sorry, but none of this makes any sense at all,” Rachel replied.

“Don’t look at me,” Paul MacQuarie said with a shrug, “I only came here for a blueberry muffin.”

“As I said, the town of Hallowind Cove needs your help, Miss Hammersmith,” Mayor Orville declared.

“Only you can save Christmas,” Father MacGillicuddy announced.

By now Rachel was getting a definite sense of déjà vu. “Excuse, but what exactly is the problem?”

“The problem…” Dr. Cuttlefish announced, “…is Krampus.”

He obviously thought that this explained everything. But instead it left Rachel even more confused than before.

“Excuse me, but what is a Krampus?”

“Not what, who,” Ian said darkly.

“According to legend, the Krampus is a companion of Saint Nicholas…” Dr. Cuttlefish began.

“The martyred bishop of Myra, not the Coca Cola-fied abomination known as Santa Claus,” Father MacGillicuddy added.

Dr. Cuttlefish cleared his throat. “As I was saying, Krampus is a companion of Saint Nicholas, one of several such companions. Commonly depicted as a shaggy creature with horns and a cloven hoof, Krampus embodies dark, chaos and evil, while Saint Nicholas embodies light and good.”

“That’s… uhm… very interesting,” Rachel said, unsure what this had to do with anything.

Undaunted, Dr. Cuttlefish continued, “According to legend, Saint Nicholas and Krampus go around town on the night of December 5…”

“Which happens to be the night before December 6, that is Saint Nicholas day,” Father MacGillicuddy interrupted.

Dr. Cuttlefish shot him a dirty look. “As I was saying, Krampus and Saint Nicholas go around town on the night of December 5. They enter houses, where Saint Nicholas gives apples, nuts, candy and tangerines to the good children, while Krampus spanks the bad kids with a birch rod. Some also say he snatches bad children and takes them away to hell.”

“Though that has never happened here, at least not as far as anybody can recall,” Sheriff Aberdeen added hastily.

“That’s… uhm… a truly fascinating story,” Rachel said politely, “But what has all this got to do with me?”

“Well, today is December 1…” Mayor Orville threw a glance at the gingerbread advent calendar Rachel had put on the wall of the bakery, as if he needed to reassure himself of the date. “…which means that December 5 is in four days.”

“Mathematics would suggest that it is,” Rachel said.

“And this, Miss Hammersmith, is why we need your help,” Mayor Orville continued, “Because Krampus is coming in four days and he will raise hell, if he doesn’t get what he wants.”

Rachel was taken aback. “But… that’s just a legend, isn’t it?”

“This is Hallowind Cove, harbour of the weird,” Ian said darkly, “Nothing is ever just a legend here.”

“So let me get this straight…” Rachel said, very slowly, “…some kind of mythological monster is coming to Hallowind Cove in four days to spank and kidnap misbehaving children…”

“Not just children, misbehaving or otherwise,” Sheriff Aberdeen corrected, “By sundown on December 5, the Krampus runs riot in the streets. He rings his bell and chases random passers-by with his birch rod. If he catches them, they get a good thrashing.”

“Which, as you can imagine, is very painful, not to mention bad for tourism,” Mayor Orville added.

“And that is why we need your help,” Ian said.

“So you have a monster with a flagellation fetish running wild in the streets and you want my help?” Rachel asked, “Why? What can I possibly do?”

“You run the bakery,” Mayor Orville said, as if that explained everything.

“And what do you want me to do about Krampus? Whack him with a rolling pin?”

“Marie Percht was the only one who knew how to calm down the Krampus,” Ian explained, “Her ancestors were from Bavaria, where visitations by Krampuses — Krampi — are a common problem…”

“When Miss Percht’s ancestors first came to Hallowind Cove in the year of the Lord 1848, the Krampus must have hitched a ride, because he has been plaguing us ever since,” Father MacGillicuddy continued.

“The Perchts were the only ones who knew how to calm him down and make him leave,” Dr. Cuttlefish said, “They had some kind of secret family recipe.”

“Marie was the last of the Perchts. But she is gone now and that’s why we need you,” Sheriff Aberdeen implored.

Rachel took a step backwards. “But I don’t know anything about Krampuses — Krampi — oh, whatever. I didn’t even know that Kramp… more than one Krampus were a thing until today.”

“But you run the bakery,” Mayor Orville insisted, “And you inherited Marie’s secret stash of recipes.”

“And have put them to excellent use,” Sheriff Aberdeen added.

“Yes, but that doesn’t mean I have any idea how to deal with a mythological monster,” Rachel countered, “Miss Percht never even mentioned any of this.”

Just as she’d never mentioned the fog. Or any of the other things that were weird about Hallowind Cove.

Suddenly, Rachel had an idea. “What about Saint Nicholas? You said he and Krampus always travel together. So why don’t you ask him for help with his wayward companion?”

“Well…” The mayor and Father MacGillicuddy exchanged a glance. “We never got Saint Nicholas here. Not visibly walking the streets, at any rate. We only ever got the Krampus.”

Ian shrugged. “I guess Saint Nicholas just doesn’t like the fog.”

“And that makes two of us,” Rachel thought, though she didn’t say anything.

Sheriff Aberdeen, on the other hand, did say something, though he first cleared his throat, “Still, Miss Hammersmith, if you could just… I don’t know… check Marie’s recipes, if she left a note regarding how to pacify the Krampus…”

“I can certainly try,” Rachel said, for what else was she supposed to say? After all, these people were not just her neighbours, but also her customers. No matter how ridiculous their request was, blanket-refusing it would only alienate them.

“Though I can’t make any promises,” she added, “And anyway, why don’t you just arrest this Krampus for breach of the peace or assault and battery or whatever the moment he makes trouble?”

In response, the Sheriff leant forward, almost confidentially, “Because this is Hallowind Cove, Miss Hammersmith. And some of the creatures here you simply don’t arrest, no matter how much trouble they cause.”

“So in short, it all hinges on me?” Rachel wanted to know.

“As I said, only you can save Christmas,” Father MacGillicuddy declared.

“What is more, the town of Hallowind Cove would be eternally grateful to you,” Mayor Orville added.

Rachel briefly considered asking whether there was any compensation involved aside from eternal gratitude, but then she thought the better of it. After all, she was still new in town. And if this whole Krampus business, silly though it was, brought her new customers, then that should be compensation enough.

“I’ll do my very best,” she said, “So is there anything else I can do for you, gentlemen?”

“Actually, there is…” Sheriff Aberdeen began and ordered his customary supply of lemon sprinkle doughnuts and chocolate vanilla eclairs.

Father MacGillicuddy was next and bought a bag of spiced almond Spekulatius, which he proclaimed were better than Marie Percht’s. Mayor Orville purchased some lemon meringue tarts. Dr. Cuttlefish bought a bag of peppernuts and Ian Rayburn ordered some sourdough bread for The Croaking Foghorn and some cinnamon stars for himself.

“Well, that was weird,” Rachel exclaimed, after they had all filed out of the shop, causing the silver bells to tinkle like a guardian angel mass graduation ceremony.

“This is Hallowind Cove,” a voice said, “Weird is relative here.”

Rachel looked up and found herself face to face with Paul MacQuarie from down the street. Crap, she’d forgotten all about him.

Paul, meanwhile, smiled at her. “But in this case you’re right. That really was weird.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Rachel exclaimed, “With that minor invasion, I totally forgot about you. You wanted a blueberry muffin, right?”

Paul nodded. “And a café au lait, please.”

So Rachel picked up a blueberry muffin from the display and put it on a plate. Then she got to work on the coffeemaker, a steam-belching brass-plated monstrosity that wouldn’t look out of place at a Steampunk convention. As an afterthought, she added one of her vanilla crescents, still warm from the oven, to the saucer, because it was totally her fault that she’d forgotten all about poor Paul.

“Thank you,” Paul said with a smile and took a bite out of his blueberry muffin.

“You’re welcome,” Rachel replied with a smile of her own.

“Not that it’s any of my business…” Paul said in between two sips of café au lait, “…but no matter how strange some of the local legends may sound, in my experience there’s usually a kernel of truth to them.”

“So you think there’s something to this whole Krampus business?” Rachel asked. She suddenly realised that after this morning’s excitement, she really needed some caffeine and so she set about making herself a cappuccino. The coffeemaker came to life, belching out a cloud of steam in protest.

“I never heard about this particular bit of Hallowind Cove weirdness — I only arrived in January — but the other Hallowind Cove legends did turn out to be true or at least not completely false.”

Rachel nodded. “Like Hugo, the talking raven. Come to think of it, I saw him this morning and he said something about ‘Krampus is coming’ to me.”

The cappuccino was finished by now, so Rachel removed the cup from underneath the machine. After a second of hesitation, she added a vanilla crescent to her own saucer as well, because what was the use in owning a bakery, if you couldn’t indulge in your own cookies once in a while?

“Poor Hugo. I even made fun of him for mangling a pop culture quote.”

“Oh, I’m sure Hugo is used to that by now,” Paul said, brushing some blueberry muffin crumbs from the lapel of his winter coat, “Even the locals rarely take him seriously, though they should really know better.”

Rachel picked up a spoon and ladled some milk foam into her mouth. “And those human-shaped shadows that sometimes stand around in Twilight Gardens and stare at you… really creepy.”

Paul nodded. “Yes, the standarounds. Though they never do anything, just stand around and stare. Unlike some other local legends.”

Rachel took a sip of her cappuccino, savouring the warmth and the caffeine boost. “So what about that ghost down by the docks — sorry, I’ve forgotten the name? Is there some truth to that story as well.”

“Oh, the Revenant is definitely real,” Paul assured her, “Though apparently, only people whose ancestors have lived in Hallowind Cove since the 1870s can see him, so you should be quite safe.”

Rachel suppressed a shudder. “That’s a relief.” She took another sip of cappuccino. “So your family actually is from Hallowind Cove?”

Paul nodded. “A distant uncle of mine was. I’d never had any contact with him, but then out of a blue I got a letter from a lawyer informing me that he’d left me his house here on Gloomland Street.” He paused. “At the time I thought I’d won the jackpot.”

Rachel laughed. “And then you came here and found out about the fog and all the other… stuff.”

“Yeah, they never tell you about that.”

Rachel took a bite of her vanilla crescent, savouring the brittle airiness and the taste, sweet, nutty and ever so slightly spicy.

“So why don’t you sell the house?” she wanted to know.

Paul shifted from one foot to the other. “It’s not that I haven’t thought about it, but… who’d buy a house in Hallowind Cove where it’s foggy all the time?”

“You could just lie,” Rachel pointed out, “It’s what everybody else does, after all.”

Paul shook his head. “I guess I could, but that’s just not me. And besides, it’s not so bad here. I’ve got a big house, plenty of time to write and I’m friends, sort of, with Ian from the pub. And when the sun shines, the town really is lovely.”

He picked up the vanilla crescent between his thumb and forefinger and took a bite. “Wow, those are amazing!”

“Thank you,” Rachel said, “Whatever else you can say about Marie Percht, her cookie recipes are really fabulous. I just hope she also has one for Krampus wrangling.”

“I… I could help, if you like,” Paul offered, blushing ever so slightly, “Not with the bakery — I even manage to burn those microwaveable heat and eat cookies. But I could help you check Miss Percht’s notes…”

“That would be great, actually,” Rachel said, “Cause Marie’s secret recipe book is a mess of loose papers. Her handwriting is awful and that of her ancestors is even worse. I still haven’t managed to sort through it all. So if you have the time…”

“Sure, no problem.” Paul flashed her another smile. “And if all else fails, I can help to hold off this Krampus creature with a baseball bat. Provided he isn’t immune to those.”

“Well, apparently he hits people with a birch rod, so I guess not.” Rachel paused. “Why a birch rod? What does the type of wood matter?”

“I haven’t the foggiest idea.” Paul winked at her. “Though if we meet this Krampus, we can ask him.” He checked his wristwatch. “Anyway, I have to run. Thanks for the coffee, the pastries and the conversation. I’ll see you later.”

“I’m looking forward to it,” Rachel said and meant it.

***

As promised, Paul did turn up again at six, when Rachel closed the bakery, to help her look through the notes Marie Percht had left behind. But Paul had done more than that.

“I looked up Krampus,” he announced, “So yes, the Krampus really is a creature of German and Austrian folk legend. This is what he looks like.”

Paul held up his smartphone and showed her a picture of a monster that looked like the unholy love child of the devil and a shaggy brown cow.

“Brrr,” Rachel exclaimed, “Not something I’d like to meet. So what else do you have?”

“According to legend, the Krampus walks the Earth on the night of December 5. Though likely of pagan origin, he travels with Saint Nicholas and whacks the bad children with his birch rod and sometimes kidnaps the very bad ones.”

Paul had found some images of that, too, Victorian holiday cards featuring Saint Nicholas — clad in a long red coat and a bishop’s mitre and not in the red pyjama of the American Santa — chumming it up with Krampus, the devilish monster, while terrifying children.

“Traitor,” Rachel thought, though she’d stopped believing in Santa more than twenty years ago.

Out loud she said, “So it’s more or less as Dr. Cuttlefish said?”

“There’s a bit more,” Paul said, “Turns out there are actual Krampuses — Krampi? — walking the streets of some towns in Germany and Austria, but they’re guys in costume, not actual… you know… monsters.”

He showed her some photos of people in Halloween costumes wandering around snowy alpine towns.

“Apparently, there’s a horror film, too,” Paul said, “But supposedly it’s not very accurate.”

“Well, of course not,” Rachel said, “Horror movies are not supposed to be documentaries.”

“Normally not,” Paul agreed, “But then, this is Hallowind Cove.”

“Was there anything about any pastries or other food connected to Krampus?” Rachel wanted to know.

Paul shook his head. “Nothing beyond the fact that some people think the Krampus eats the bad children he kidnaps.”

“Well, we’re not going to feed him babies,” Rachel said, “Which means that we’ll have to dive into Marie’s notes.” She looked at Paul. “Ready?”

“As ready as I’ll ever be.”

So Rachel put on a big pot of tea — no coffee; she was jittery enough as it was — and then she and Paul got to work.

Marie’s notes were even more of a mess than Rachel remembered. Her recipe book was a vintage blank notebook that some long gone Percht had bound in cotton fabric with a pattern of cheery red-cheeked apples. That in itself wouldn’t be too bad. However, the categorisation imposed by Marie and her ancestors was strange, to say the least. Pumpkin cake was listed under “Bread”. Waffles were listed under “Desserts”, while pies and gateaux were classified as “Cakes”. Not all recipes were bakery related either and so herring salad was classified as a “Salad” rather than as “Seafood”. And for reasons best known to Marie Percht herself, marinara sauce was classified as “Asian food”.

But the worst thing were the scraps of paper — recipes clipped from newspapers and magazines, torn from the back of food containers and jotted down on random scraps of paper in a barely legible handwriting — that were stuffed into the notebook without rhyme or reason, at least none that was easily discernible.

“All right, so this is a mess,” Paul announced after briefly flipping through Marie’s secret recipe collection, “How did she ever find anything in here?”

Rachel shrugged. “I guess she had a system. Too bad she didn’t tell me what it is.”

Paul settled down cross-legged on the floor. “So how do we narrow it down?” he wanted to know.

Rachel settled down beside him. “Marie and her family were bakers…” she said, “…so it stands to reason that whatever she did to pacify this Krampus was bakery related. So first we discard anything that has nothing to do with baking.”

“And then?” Paul asked.

“Then we look for holiday related recipes, particularly Christmas recipes. After all, this Krampus only shows up in December, so that’s where any Krampus-pacifying miracle recipes should logically be located.”

Of course, logic was relative here. After all, Marie did consider pumpkin cake to be bread and thought marinara sauce was Asian food for some reason.

“Are there even any holiday recipes that are not Christmas related?” Paul wanted to know, “After all, ‘holiday’ is usually just a politically correct way of saying Christmas or Chanukah without offending anybody.”

“Oh, there definitely are non-Christmas related holiday recipes in there,” Rachel replied, “I found a great recipe for Easter bread I’m dying to try out as well as some pumpkin bread and spooky cupcakes for Halloween, Guinness bread for Saint Patrick’s Day…”

“Now that sounds delicious.”

“…Berliners and something called Victoria — some kind of doughnut apparently — for Mardi Gras as well as some sweet love cupcakes for Valentine’s Day. Plus, a recipe for Martinsmas goose with dumplings, whatever Martinsmas might be.”

“Wow, Miss Percht really did have a recipe for every occasion,” Paul marvelled, “Let’s hope she had one for pacifying the Krampus as well.”

“And let’s hope we’ll find it,” Rachel added darkly and turned back to sifting through the mess that was Marie Percht’s recipe collection.

In the end — several hours later, when the teapot had long gone empty and the clock of the church of Our Lady of the Mist had already struck midnight — Paul was the one who found something.

“Hey, Rachel — ahem, Miss Hammersmith — I think I’ve got something.”

“Rachel is fine,” she said, suppressing a yawn, “Miss Hammersmith always makes me sound like someone’s maiden aunt.”

Without getting up from the floor, she crawled over to where Paul was sitting cross-legged on the ground to peer over his shoulder.

“So what have you got?” she wanted to know.

In response, Paul pointed at a page in Marie Percht’s recipe book. The page was clearly old and stained with heavens knew what. There were drawings, too, of men with pipes and devils bearing bundles of twigs. The handwriting wasn’t Marie’s and the ink was partly faded. Worse, none of the words made any sense.

“That’s not even in English,” Rachel exclaimed.

“Probably German…” Paul said, “…considering that’s where the Perchts were apparently from originally. But the drawings looks a bit like Krampus is commonly depicted, though I have no idea what the men with pipes are for. Finally, look here.” He pointed at a spot on the page.

Rachel squinted and indeed there, written in the same cramped, unfamiliar handwriting, was the word “Krampus”.

“This is it. You found it! You really found it!”

Rachel spontaneously flung her arms around Paul before she realised what she was doing and stopped.

She felt the blood rush to her cheeks. “I’m sorry, I…”

“No, it… it’s fine,” Paul replied, blushing as well.

Once the uncomfortable moment had passed, Rachel wanted to know, “So what do we do with this now? We have a recipe, if that’s what it is, but we can’t read it.”

At this moment, she spotted something on the page and squinted at it.

“That’s Marie’s handwriting,” she said and pointed at a few scrawled lines on the page, “She made notes to the recipe.”

“Can you tell what they say?” Paul wanted to know.

Rachel squinted some more at the page. “She seems to have converted the measurements. So we now know how much we need to use, we just don’t know of what.”

“Maybe I can help,” Paul suggested, “I could take a photo of the page and send it to a friend who translates German. Novels usually, but I’m pretty sure she could translate a vintage recipe, too.”

Rachel perked up. “And you think your friend will do this?”

Paul grinned. “I’ll tell her it has to do with an old German folk legend imported by immigrants and manifesting itself in the form of food. I’m sure she’ll be all over it.”

He pulled out his smartphone. “So if I may…?”

Rachel nodded distractedly and moved out of the way, while Paul snapped a photo of the page. After three tries, he was finally satisfied.

“All right, I’ll send it to my friend. She’s probably already asleep, so we’ll have to wait until tomorrow before we can expect an answer.”

“That’s okay,” Rachel said, “After all, according to the delegation this morning, we have until the evening of December 5, so that should be plenty of time.”

Paul typed something into his smartphone and pressed “Send”.

“Here, that’s it.” He paused. “It’s already late, so I guess we should call it a night.”

He got to his feet and Rachel did likewise.

“Thanks for all your help,” she said, “I don’t know what I would’ve done without you.”

“You’re welcome.” Paul winked at her. “I figure us newcomers have to stick together. Especially in a place like Hallowind Cove where weird monsters and other creatures tend to pop up out of the blue and no one ever tells you anything until it’s almost too late.”

Briefly, Rachel wondered whether he was speaking from experience and if so, what monster was haunting Paul.

“Anyway, thanks a lot. I… I guess I’ll see you tomorrow then.”

Paul smiled at her. “Sure. After all, I’m not fully awake until I’ve had my morning muffin. And of course, I’ll let you know as soon as my friend replies.”

“That would be great, thanks.”

And it was only after Paul had left that Rachel realised that maybe she should have asked him to stay. Or at least used the mistletoe that was dangling from the ceiling of the shop as an excuse to steal a kiss.

***

The next morning, shortly after Rachel opened the bakery, Paul showed up again for his customary morning muffin and coffee. Today, he opted for a carrot oatmeal muffin.

“Anything from your friend?” Rachel asked him, as she handed the muffin over the counter.

Paul shook his head. “Not yet. But you’ll be the first to know once there is.”

Worse, all through the day, members of the delegation that had come to see her the day before kept dropping by.

Sheriff Alastair Angus Aberdeen was the first. He appeared shortly after Paul had left, supposedly to buy his daily allotment of lemon sprinkle doughnuts and chocolate vanilla eclairs.

But then, when Rachel handed him the pink and green striped box with the doughnuts and the eclairs, Sheriff Aberdeen managed to ask the one question that was really on his mind, “Ahem, have you thought about the Krampus problem yet?”

“We’re working on it,” Rachel replied with her sweetest smile.

Mayor Orville was the next to appear, supposedly to order a black forest gateau for a reception way off in February.

“Oh and before I forget, Miss Hammersmith, are their any developments regarding the Krampus situation?”

“We’re working on it,” Rachel replied with a slightly less sweet smile.

Father MacGillicuddy showed up next, to buy more almond Spekulatius and peppernuts, too, for good measure.

“Oh yes, and have you already devoted yourself to resolving our unfortunate Krampus problem?” he finally asked.

“We’re working on it,” Rachel replied and this time, she did not smile at all.

Shortly before noon, Dr. Cuttlefish shuffled in. Apparently, he had developed a burning craving to have a salmon and cream cheese bagel for lunch.

And then, when Rachel handed him the bagel, he finally asked the question, “Ahem, about the Krampus…?”

Rachel cut him off. “We’re working on it.”

Finally, around four in the afternoon, Ian Rayburn walked into the bakery. He barely had time to open mouth, before Rachel snapped, “We’re working on it, okay. What else do you want? It’s not my bloody fault that Marie decided to piss off to Florida and leave us all alone with this mess, so stop blaming me.”

Ian blinked, clearly taken aback by her outburst.

“Uhm, actually I just wanted to buy some sourdough baguette for The Croaking Foghorn,” he said.

“So you weren’t going to ask about the Krampus and how thing’s are going?” Rachel wanted to know, “Cause in that case, you’re the first and only one today.”

“Well… maybe I would have asked, but not first thing. Also, you have to understand that the good folks of Hallowind Cove are worried about the Krampus. Cause when he hits you with his birch rod… well, it really hurts. I had red welts for three days the last time he got me.”

Of course, he had to tell her about that. Because Rachel obviously wasn’t scared enough already, so now she was bloody terrified.

She gritted her teeth. “Like I said, we’re working on it.”

“That’s good to hear,” Ian replied, “Who’s ‘we’, by the way?”

“Me and Paul — Paul MacQuarie. He’s helping me with the research.”

In response, Ian shot her a strange look. “Is he now?”

Shortly before closing time, the silver bell door chime jingled once more. Rachel, who’d been inside the bakery proper, cleaning the oven, promptly dashed into the shop and braced herself for yet another round of questions and non-answers. But then she spotted Paul and relaxed.

“Please, tell me you’ve got something for me. Cause it feels as if the whole town has already dropped by today to ask me how things are going.”

“I just heard back from my friend and…” Paul’s features erupted into a broad grin. “…yes, she had something for me. She was able to translate the recipe. Oh yes, and those weird illustrations of men with pipes and devils with twigs actually are the shapes in which the bread, cookies… — I’m not sure what it actually is — are supposed to be baked.”

Rachel had to muster all her restraint to keep herself from hugging Paul, and also to ignore the fact that he was standing directly underneath the mistletoe.

“Can I see?” she asked instead.

In response, Paul handed her his smartphone. “Of course.”

Rachel studied the translated recipe and scanned the ingredient list. She smiled.

“Now this I can work with.”

She paused, as her eyes reached the final ingredient.

“But what do ‘some miniature clay or meerschaum pipes’ have to do with anything?”

Paul shrugged. “I’m not sure. Though the cookie, bread, whatever is supposed to look like a man with a pipe, so maybe that’s it.”

Rachel’s face and mood fell. “And how am I supposed to come by miniature clay or meerschaum pipes? And for the record, what is meerschaum anyway?”

“Some kind of mineral, as far as I know,” Paul replied, “Used to make pipes. As for how to come by it, I guess we’ll have to improvise.”

***

The next two days, Rachel did a lot of experimentation with Marie Percht’s secret Krampus pacifying recipe — if that’s indeed what it was — in addition to her regular baking.

There was nothing overly mysterious about the recipe itself. It resulted in a sweet, yeast-leavened dough of the sort used for breakfast buns and certain types of bread. In fact, there was an almost identical recipe for raisin bread among Marie’s notes, except that the Krampus recipe contained a few extra spices. Still, it was nothing that Rachel couldn’t handle and indeed, both the dough itself and buns made from the dough tasted wonderful, once Rachel tried them.

But Rachel suspected there was more to the Krampus pacifying pastries than just the basic dough. After all, the translated recipe insisted that the pastries had to be shaped either like men with pipes or devils.

Alas, Rachel was a baker, not a sculptor, and so her first attempt came out as misshapen lumps of dough that looked vaguely human, if you squinted very hard. The second batch managed to be a reasonable approximation of the hunchback of Notre Dame, which was not at all what Rachel had intended. It took two more tries until Rachel finally got something that looked like the illustration in Marie Percht’s recipe book.

She decorated the dough men and dough devils with raisins for eyes and mouth, blanched almonds for buttons and sprinkled some granulated sugar on top for good measure. The bundles of twigs and pipes were still a problem, since twigs were inedible and Rachel had absolutely no idea where to find miniature pipes. In the end, she took a pastry bag and some icing and sprayed a pipe of white icing onto the pastry men and a bundle of chocolate twigs onto the devils.

“And… what do you think?” she asked Paul MacQuarie who’d dropped by to lend some moral as well as physical support, courtesy of his trusty baseball bat.

“They certainly look tasty,” Paul replied, “Which reminds me that I’m hungry.”

“Pick whatever you like,” Rachel said, “My treat. Though you can’t have the Krampus pastries. I can’t afford to run out and I have no idea how hungry this creature is or if he even likes them at all.”

“The Krampus is an idiot, if he doesn’t like them,” Paul declared and pointed at a cinnamon roll.

“Unfortunately, he’s a very violent idiot by all accounts,” Rachel said and handed him the roll.

It was December 5 by now, late afternoon. Not long now and the sun, hidden behind a veil of fog as always, would set, plunging Hallowind Cove into darkness.

Normally at this time of the day, the streets would be full of people heading home from work and the bakery would be full of customers. But today was different.

For tonight was the night of the Krampus and so the good people of Hallowind Cove stayed at home lest the Krampus catch them while out and about and whack them with his birch rod. Some overly cautious souls had even barricaded themselves in their homes and boarded up the doors and windows, which struck Rachel as a massive overreaction. Though truth to be told, she’d like nothing more than to grab a hammer and some nails herself and board up the shop.

But she couldn’t. After all, the fate of the town and of Christmas itself depended on her.

And so Paul and Rachel waited, drinking green tea — because anything with more caffeine would only make them even more jittery — and nibbling on vanilla crescents and the spicy, syrupy cookies known only as brown biscuits. Outside, the sun went down, which in Hallowind Cove manifested as the fog getting even thicker and gloomier than normal. Another half hour and it would be completely dark.

And then they heard it. The distant ring of bells. Not the gentle tinkling of silver bells like those Rachel used as a door chime — no, this was the full-bodied ring of cowbells. The laughter came next, a horrid sound that seemed to echo up straight from the depths of hell itself. And finally there was the cracking of a whip and the distinctive sound of a piece of wood meeting human flesh.

Krampus had arrived.

Rachel exchanged a glance with Paul. “Looks like this is it,” she whispered.

In response, Paul reached for his baseball bat. “Let him come then. I’m pretty sure that ashwood still beats birch rod.”

“Let’s hope we won’t have to put that theory to the test,” Rachel said.

For several minutes, they stood in the bakery and waited. The sounds — the cowbell, the hellish laughter, the slap of wood on flesh — grew ever louder and nearer, as the clock on the wall ticked the minutes away.

Once, they even heard a police siren. Probably Sheriff Aberdeen or one of his deputies, come to make sure that the Krampus didn’t run too wild in the streets.

“He’s certainly taking his time,” Paul whispered, his hand still on the baseball bat.

“I wish he’d come already,” Rachel whispered back, “I just want this whole thing to be over.”

Outside, the bells, the laughter and the slapping sounds were echoing down Gloomland Street, bouncing from house to house. Though Paul and Rachel still couldn’t see anything beyond the shop windows except for fog dense as pea soup wafting past the cheerily decorated windows.

But then, Rachel saw something or rather someone moving through the fog. At first, she thought at was just an optical illusion like the shadows standing around in Twilight Gardens that vanished as soon as you got too close. But this particular shadow didn’t vanish. Instead, it seemed to grow darker, larger and more solid, while the racket it made gradually rose to deafening levels.

Rachel still couldn’t make out any details, but one thing she knew for sure. Whatever this shadow was, it sure as hell wasn’t human. It was bigger and broader, its frame hunched and stooped, as if it always had to bend over. And where its head should be — crap, were those horns?

Involuntarily, Rachel took a step backwards, until she bumped into the bread racks behind the counter. Beside her, Paul gripped his baseball bat so hard that his knuckles turned white.

And then the creature pressed its face against the window, like a schoolchild with no lunch money longingly checking out the treats for sale inside the bakery. But oh, what a face it was. It was dark and furred, like a black billy goat. It had pointed ears and long curling horns and when it opened its mouth, its teeth were razor-sharp and its long lolling tongue slobbered against the bakery window.

“Wow, what an ugly bugger,” Paul exclaimed, while Rachel wondered how on Earth to wipe Krampus saliva from her window.

The eyes of the Krampus — red and glowing like twin embers from hell itself — lit up as he scanned the range of pastries on offer. The creature grinned — a wide, terrifying grin — clumped right up to the entrance and pushed open the door, setting the silver bell chimes ajingle.

Clearly, the sound pleased the Krampus, for he immediately responded by ringing his cowbell. He had cloven hooves and carried a wicker basket on his back. In his left hand, he held a cowbell and in his right, he carried a bundle of twigs — birch by the look of them — which he raised menacingly. And yes, the masculine pronoun was entirely correct in this case, for the proof was dangling prominently between his legs.

“Hell… Hello,” Rachel stammered, “I know you’re probably looking for Marie, but she’s gone away to Florida. I’m Rachel and this is my bakery now. And this here is my friend Paul.”

Rachel jabbed him in the side and Paul said, “Hi.”

In response, the Krampus shot them both a curious look. Then he focussed on the counter display and that long slobbering tongue came out again.

“I… I guess you want pastries,” Rachel said, “I was told you like these…”

She picked up the tray with the dough men and the dough devils and held it out towards the Krampus.

“But if you’d rather have something else, that’s fine, too. Just let me know what you’d like.”

The Krampus reached out with huge furry paws and grabbed one of the dough devils. Within seconds, he had demolished the pastry, sprinkling crumbs all over his shaggy dark fur and the bakery floor.

“More,” the Krampus roared or at least that’s what Rachel thought he meant, because he wasn’t exactly articulate.

“Sure, eat as many as you like,” she said with her sweetest smile.

The Krampus barely waited for the invitation, but gobbled up dough devil after dough devil, though oddly enough he left the dough men with their icing pipes alone.

Then, finally, the last dough devil was gone. And still Rachel stood there petrified, scared that the Krampus would attack her now she’d run out of dough devils. Behind the counter, Paul reached for his baseball bat.

But the Krampus didn’t attack. Instead, he wiped his mouth and shook off the crumbs from his shaggy black fur. Then he smiled at Rachel — a toothy, terrifying smile — and lowered his birch bundle. He grunted something that might have meant “Thank you” and reached into the wicker basket on his back to produce a tangerine, which he held out for Rachel.

Cautiously, Rachel took the tangerine. “Th…thank you,” she stammered.

But the Krampus wasn’t done yet. He picked up one of the dough men, very carefully, and put it into his basket. Then he turned around and clumped towards the door, setting the chimes ajingle once again. The Krampus grinned and rang his own cowbell. Then he slammed the door shut behind him with excessive enthusiasm.

“Okay, now that was weird,” Paul said.

“You can say that,” Rachel whispered, for the Krampus was still outside the bakery, ringing his cowbell like mad.

“What is he waiting for?” Paul wanted to know.

“I don’t know,” Rachel replied, “I just hope he doesn’t decide he wants more dough devils, because he just ate them all.”

“Look,” Paul exclaimed and pointed at the window and rather the world beyond.

Outside, the fog was thick as ever. But a red light had appeared in the sky, cutting through the gloom. It traced a curve over Twilight Gardens and then launched into an approach path onto Gloomland Street.

Inside the bakery, Paul and Rachel watched, unaware that they had reached for each other’s hands.

By now they could see that the red light was at the tip of some kind of flying object. Not an airplane — too small — and not a helicopter either and certainly no flying saucer. Instead, it almost looked like a horse-drawn cart or rather a sleigh. Though it wasn’t drawn by horses, but by reindeer, nine of them. And the red light wasn’t a light at all, but the nose of the lead reindeer, which glowed in the fog like a big fat lightbulb.

The sleigh came to a halt directly in front of the bakery. And there, sitting on the box, the reins in his hand, was Saint Nicholas himself. He had ruddy cheeks and a bushy white beard, just like in a billion greeting cards and Coca Cola ads. Though he wasn’t wearing the long red coat and the bishop’s mitre of the Victorian Christmas cards, but the red pyjama edged in white fur of the modern American Santa. Mostly likely, because that outfit was simply warmer and more practical.

The Krampus had been jumping up and down, ringing his cowbell, all through the sleigh’s approach. When it finally landed, he galumphed towards the sleigh and climbed up onto the box next to Santa. Once he was seated, the Krampus reached into his wicker basket, pulled out the dough man with the icing pipe and handed it to Santa.

Santa smiled and patted the Krampus on the shaggy shoulder. Then he heartily bit into the dough man. “Yee-Ho”, Santa called and the sleigh took off again. Santa and the Krampus waved once more at the bakery, then they were gone.

Inside the bakery, Rachel and Paul exchanged a look.

“No one is ever going to believe this,” Rachel finally said.

“Probably not,” Paul agreed, “But on the other hand, this is Hallowind Cove, where strange things happen all the time.”

“Yeah, but ‘Santa keeps a monster locked up in his attic and he lets him run wild once a year in Hallowind Cove of all places’ is certainly bizarre even by the standards of this town,” Rachel remarked.

“Well, if you put it like that.” Paul glanced at the tray. “Looks like you still have a bunch of pipe men left, even if the devils are all gone.”

Rachel nodded and returned the tray half empty to the display counter. “I’ll probably sell them as ‘Santa’s favourite pastries’. After all, we both saw him eat one.”

“I’m sure they’ll be bestsellers,” Paul said, “Not that I’ve ever actually had one.”

Rachel picked up a dough man from the display and handed it to Paul. “You can have one now, on the house. After all, the danger has passed and Krampus has left with Santa for the North Pole or wherever.”

Paul accepted the dough man, holding it as carefully as the Krampus had. “Uhm, thanks,” he said and blushed.

Rachel felt her heart hammer like wild in her chest and its wasn’t only because they’d both just survived an encounter with a bona fide monster, albeit one with a sweet tooth.

“And, Paul, thanks… for everything.”

And then, because she realised that they both just happened to stand under the mistletoe that dangled from the ceiling of the shop, Rachel flung her arms around Paul and kissed him.

After a second of hesitation, he kissed her back.

***

Outside on Gloomland Street, perched on the wrought iron fence that surrounded Twilight Gardens, sat Hugo the raven, his black feathers dotted with snowflakes. From this vantage point, he had an excellent view of the street and the bakery and couple kissing inside the shop for what had to be an inordinately long time.

If birds could smile, Hugo probably would have.

“Mer-ry Christ-mas,” he croaked to no one in particular.

The End

***

That’s it for this month’s edition of First Monday Free Fiction. Check back next month, when a new story will be posted.

Check back next month, when there will be a new story available.

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Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month for November 2019

Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month
It’s that time of the month again, time for “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of speculative fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some October books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Once again, we have new releases covering the whole broad spectrum of speculative fiction. This month, we have epic fantasy, urban fantasy, historical fantasy, gaslamp fantasy, sword and sorcery, paranormal mystery, paranormal romance, fantasy romance, time travel romance, science fiction romance, planetary romance, space opera, military science fiction, military fantasy, dystopian fiction, alternate history, Steampunk, horror, vampires, ghosts, gods, aliens, space marines, planet killers, gladiators in space, virgin sacrifices, crime-busting witches, autumn on Mars, the afterlife in Amsterdam and much more.

Don’t forget that Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Speculative Fiction Showcase, a group blog run by Jessica Rydill and myself, which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things speculative fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

The Arkhel Conundrum by Sarah AshThe Arkhel Conundrum by Sarah Ash:

“But what happened to Gavril and Kiukiu after Children of the Serpent Gate? When is the sequel coming out?”

Readers have been asking me this question ever since Book 3 of The Tears of Artamon was published – and at last I’ve had the chance to provide an answer in Book 4: The Arkhel Conundrum.

Azhkendir, land of snow and shadows, harbours many secrets – and a powerful ancient winter deity is awakened when a foreign mining company begins to strip out the rare mineral resources beneath the mountains. Old clan hatreds are stirred up. The High Steward of Azhkendir, Lord Gavril, and his wife, Spirit Singer Kiukiu, hope to seek help from the Emperor Eugene. But their onetime enemy turned ally is distracted by his competition to build a flying machine. Is someone from their past trying to destabilize the fragile peace of the empire? Or are there supernatural forces involved? The Magus, Kaspar Linnaius, may have the answers…but he has disappeared and no one knows where he is or how to contact him.

God Given, Book 1 by Odette C. BellGod Given, Book 1 by Odette C. Bell:

“Every god will hunt you. They will not stop. There will be nowhere safe on the face of this planet. From now until the day you die, you will have to run.”
Those were the words that started everything. Casey was once normal – now she’s the most important piece in a game for the world.
She’s dragged into the realm of gods. It is violent, it’s tortured, and at its heart is a man she’s never been able to forget.

 

The Temple of the Snake God by Cora BuhlertThe Temple of the Snake God by Richard Blakemore and Cora Buhlert:

It was supposed to be an easy job. Go in, grab the eye of the idol and get out.

But the temple of the snake god Tseghirun turns out to be unexpectedly busy, when Thurvok, the sellsword, and his friends, Meldom, thief, cutpurse and occasional assassin, the sorceress Sharenna and Meldom’s sweetheart Lysha attempt to steal the eye. Not only is there a ceremony going on at the temple, no, the cultists are also about to sacrifice several young girls to the snake god Tseghirun. And so what started out as a simple heist quickly turns into a rescue mission.

This is a short story of 6200 words or approximately 22 print pages in the Thurvok sword and sorcery series, but may be read as a standalone. Includes an introduction and afterword.

Honourable Enemies by Cora BuhlertHonourable Enemies by Cora Buhlert:

Once, Colonel Brian Mayhew was the deputy commander of the Republican Special Commando Forces. But now he’s gone AWOL to take out crime lord Rick Santerna, the man who murdered his family.

Mayhew’s quest for vengeance brings him to the rim world of Maciste, where he runs into his former protégé Mikhail Grikov, now wanted as a traitor and deserter for eloping with enemy soldier Anjali Patel.

Mayhew knows that it’s his duty to bring in Mikhail and Anjali. But with Santerna hot his tail, he finds that he needs their help.

Mikhail and Anjali know that Brian Mayhew is a threat to their freedom and their new life together. But now they are faced with a hard choice. Should they risk their lives to help a man who could condemn them both to death or should they let Mayhew die in the Great Arena of Maciste?

This is a short novel of 57000 words or approximately 200 print pages in the “In Love and War” series, but may be read as a standalone.

Planet Killer by Lindsay BurokerPlanet Killer by Lindsay Buroker:

Casmir has survived against impossible odds, and now he longs to return home. But an invasion force is blockading the Kingdom’s wormhole gate, and it would be suicidal to fly through it now. Worse, his family and friends are stuck on the other side, with hostile forces attacking their home world.

The only way Casmir can help is to find out who’s behind the invasion… and convince him to stop.

But Casmir isn’t known for his ability to strong-arm people, and this is one enemy who won’t be won over by his friendly demeanor. As he soon finds out, he must face the very rich and very powerful person who’s been trying to have him killed for months.

Tooth and Blade by Shad CallisterTooth and Blade by Shad Callister:

Desperate young warriors fighting for gold and glory in a land filled with monsters.

The warriors of the Tooth and Blade will fight for Ostora, to protect the people of this new land from the dangers that stalk it. Somehow, if they live long enough, they hope to find a place for themselves here.

But the future of these fighting men is anything but certain, and Captain Pelekarr of the cavalry must work quickly with Damicos of the foot soldiers to establish the fledgling company’s reputation. The Kerathi military has pulled out, and the barbarian tribesmen are massing for battle while huge monsters lurk in the trees.

If the Tooth and Blade can fight their way past all this, they’ll become legends. But how many will die trying?

Before the Darkness by April CanavanBefore the Darkness by April Canavan:

Never stand in the way of fate.

Winter gave up on the human realm after she lost the love of her life. Being a witch didn’t stop the pain, and neither did the enchanted sleep she put herself in. She wakes up to a whole new world, and a mission given to her by the Mother of All.

Help two people fall in love.

Sarah’s a mortal, and Zander…well he’s the next in line for the vampire throne. As they welcome the attraction between them, Winter’s faced with a dilemma. Fate has other plans for Sarah and Zander. Winter finds herself having to choose between two impossible situations: let the love blooming between Sarah and Zander thrive now and destroy their worlds, or Winter can come to terms with the fact that no one escapes their fate.

Beauty by Stacy ClaflinBeauty by Stacy Claflin:

Chase Williams is desperate to find Penelope Jackson, and the only shot he has is by locating a specific mirror. Even then, his chances are slim. He can’t operate it, so she’d have to tumble through it to his exact time.

Penelope has been traveling through various years in her history in search of her parents’ killers. She’d been with the agency so long, she can hardly remember life before. She relies on her trusty mirror to take her to the times and places she needs to go.

Then one day, she stumbles out into a strange new place… and meets a man who clearly knows who she is. But she’s never seen him before—of that much, she’s sure. Unless her future self has? The possibilities are too numerous to count, and the implications could be disastrous. Is this man trustworthy or out to get her?

Giving her heart over could be the only way to find out for sure. Or it could lead to her ultimate demise. And maybe the destruction of time as we know it.

Hollow Heart by Ben EadsHollow Heart by Ben Eads:

Welcome to Shady Hills, Florida, where death is the beginning and pain is the only true Art…

Harold Stoe was a proud Marine until an insurgent’s bullet relegated him to a wheelchair. Now the only things he’s proud of are quitting alcohol and raising his sixteen-year-old son, Dale.

But there is an infernal rhythm, beating like a diseased heart from the hollow behind his home. An aberration known as The Architect has finished his masterpiece: A god which slumbers beneath the hollow, hell-bent on changing the world into its own image.

As the body count rises and the neighborhood residents change into mindless, shambling horrors, Harold and his former lover, Mary, begin their harrowing journey into the world within the hollow. If they fail, the hollow will expand to infinity. Every living being will be stripped of flesh and muscle, their nerves wrapped tightly around ribcages, so The Architect can play his sick music through them loud enough to swallow what gives them life: The last vestiges of a dying star.

Crimson Yuletide by Rachel FordCrimson Yuletide by Rachel Ford:

Autumn gone off to sleep
And winter her secrets no more keep
Rises he from the deep
Flesh to flay and flesh to eat

Twelve days of Christmas. Twelve days of terror and death.

An ancient evil prowls the quiet streets of Wixcombe. An old man is murdered in the town square. Children disappear in the night. Villagers report sightings of Krampus, the Christmas demon.

For siblings Nan and William Fitzgerald, the season began with a promise of new loves and Christmas magic. But they find themselves in the eye of the storm when their godfather becomes the prime suspect in the killings.

To protect both the women they love and their village, the siblings must discover Krampus’ true identity. But they might not like the answers they find…

Wicked Decisions by Lily Harper HartWicked Decisions by Lily Harper Hart:

Ivy Morgan is getting married, which means she needs a dress. Now that she’s finally embraced the idea of planning for the wedding (rather than just enjoying the marriage and honeymoon) she’s gung-ho to check things off her list.

The local dressmaker Zelda Morris has just the thing for Ivy. Before she can show it to her, though, she’s murdered in the back of her own store … while Ivy waits for her to return to the storefront. Unfortunately for Ivy, because she didn’t hear a thing, that makes her a suspect.

Jack Harker isn’t happy with the turn of events. He knows Ivy is innocent but he’s in a precarious position. If word gets out that he’s protecting his fiancée, then the Michigan State Police could take over the investigation, and he’s worried they might fixate on Ivy. That means he has to dig deep for answers … and what he finds is troubling.

It seems Zelda was only one of a multitude of women dating local lothario Henry Spencer, a man who has more girlfriends than brains. One of those girlfriends happens to be Ivy’s aunt, Felicity Goodings, which means the long eye of the law falls directly on both of them.

It’s up to Jack and Ivy to untangle a mess of motives and suspects, which include her beloved aunt. That causes issues with Ivy’s mother, who is loyal to her sister to a fault.

It’s a tense time, and it only gets worse when Ivy decides to embrace her magic and use it to solve the case.

There’s a killer on the loose and Ivy might be a target because she can’t keep her nose out of trouble. She needs to discover a killer, avoid this individual’s wrath, and continue planning her wedding if she wants a happily ever after.

It’s going to be a tall task.

A Riddle in Bronze by Simon HaynesA Riddle in Bronze by Simon Haynes:

Ghostly goings-on in Victorian London…

An elderly professor and his daughter advertise for an expert bookkeeper. Instead, they employ a naive young man with very little experience.

But what if keeping the books is not the real reason they hired him? What if they have an ulterior motive?

London, England, 1871.

When I applied for a position with Professor Twickham and his daughter, I lied about my qualifications.

As it turns out, they lied about the job for which I was applying.

Had we not been so untruthful with each other, there might have been fewer night terrors stalking the inhabitants of the City.

Fewer unexplained disappearances.

Fewer deaths.

Now, nobody is safe from the creeping horrors we’ve unleashed.

With no time to spare, we face an impossible task: we must discover the mysteries in metal in order to right this wrong.

But is it already too late?

Floodtide by Heather Rose JonesFloodtide by Heather Rose Jones:

The streets are a perilous place for a young laundry maid dismissed without a character for indecent acts. Roz knew the end of the path for a country girl alone in the city of Rotenek. A desperate escape in the night brings her to the doorstep of Dominique the dressmaker and the hope of a second chance beyond what she could have imagined. Roz’s apprenticeship with the needle, under the patronage of the royal thaumaturgist, wasn’t supposed to include learning magic, but Celeste, the dressmaker’s daughter, draws Roz into the mysterious world of the charm-wives. When floodwaters and fever sweep through the lower city, Celeste’s magical charms could bring hope and healing to the forgotten poor of Rotenek, but only if Roz can claim the help of some unlikely allies.

Set in the magical early 19th century world of Alpennia, Floodtide tells an independent tale that interweaves with the adventures.

The Towering Flame by Robert I. Katz The Towering Flame by Robert I. Katz:

Once, long ago, the Empire of Mankind spread among the stars, but the Empire fell into civil war and anarchy, leaving every human inhabited world across the galaxy to go its own way.

Today, after two thousand years of isolation, the Viceroy rules over seven nations on one long-abandoned planet. He alone possesses any vestige of the technology left behind by the vanished Empire and he uses it to rule with an iron fist in a velvet glove.

But below the surface, ambitious men are struggling for power and rebellion is simmering.

Terence Allen is the third son of a wealthy father. Terence is satisfied with his life. He has few responsibilities, fewer challenges and little desire to change.

Terence Allen is an unlikely catalyst for rebellion, but Terence’s destiny changes the moment he sees Thierry Jorge Garcia striding toward him one night at the Summer Fair in Varanisi, the Viceroy’s city. Thierry, the heir to a long-standing military tradition, will let nothing keep him from pursuing Irina Archer, the woman he had known and loved as a young man in far-off Cathay, the woman who is now Terence Allen’s fiancée.

The feud that results will have repercussions far beyond the borders of the city, as the seven nations seethe with conspiracies, rumors and strife. A war that has been brewing for over a century is coming, a war that will upend the foundations of both men’s world.

Witchin' Around the Clock by Amanda M. LeeWitchin’ Around the Clock by Amanda M. Lee:

Witches are descending on Hemlock Cove and the town is gearing up for mayhem. Bay Winchester is ready to cover the event for her newspaper, and is excited to see faces she hasn’t interacted with in more than a decade.

Then the unthinkable happens.

The local blacksmith shop catches fire and Bay and her cousin Thistle risk death to try and rescue the owner. Unfortunately, they’re too late, and the man is unable to be resuscitated. Not only that, but it wasn’t the fire that killed him. No, he was murdered.

Bay can’t shake the feeling that something bad is about to happen. Harbingers of the feathered variety are filling the sky … and threatening attack. Dark magic is at work, and someone is plotting multiple deaths.

It’s up to Bay and her family to save the day, and they have to do it before cousin Clove gets married on the summer solstice. It’s a big day for the family, and a big moment for Bay. She’s the center of attention as the clock ticks down, the weight of the world on her shoulders.

The Winchesters won’t sit back and wait for a fight to come to them, they’ll go after the fight … and this is no exception. As death comes calling, they will answer.

Sit back and enjoy the ride. Love, marriage, death, and destruction are about to collide. You won’t want to miss a thing.

Blood of the Prime: Spark by Erin MacMichaelBlood of the Prime: Spark by Erin MacMichael:

New bonds, new abilities. Will they be enough to change the game?

Rhys’s fiery union with Karra brings seeds of change rippling through his awareness. No longer afraid of Biak’s harassment, he uses the bizarre connection between them to launch his own quest to stop the reptile.

When Biak unleashes his war on the Maians, he encounters some unexpected surprises. Certain that the young pilot is interfering with his campaign, his obsession with Rhys escalates into rage and his strikes into Maia and Alcyone become brazen and deadly.

While the fleet meets Biak’s assaults head-on, Rhys travels with Karra to a geometric city in the Dreamcore where he senses the invisible presence of the T’nari League, a legendary group reputed to be fighting the Drahk. Driven to connect with the slippery League, he leads his family and friends on a journey to unlock the power of sexuality, blood, gold–and choice.

–”I’m just a match to light the fire. Before we’re done with this ride, we’ll all be up in flames.”

Sad All Over by Gideon MarcusSad All Over by Gideon Marcus:

I want to doff my hat in memory of an event that pummeled the nation. I don’t think any of us have any difficulty remembering the terrible events of Dallas that day. But shortly thereafter, as Beatlemania was sweeping the nation in the wake of the Fab Four’s appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, the dark part of my brain came up with a way that November 22, 1963 could have been even worse.

 

 

Haunted Hearts by Christine PopeHaunted Hearts by Christine Pope:

His prison lives in his very bones. She holds the key that could free him… or break him.

Elena Salazar doesn’t exactly have permission to house-sit, but she’s sure her cousin Ava won’t mind the not-quite break-in. After all, Ava would want her to feel safe. And free. Two concepts Elena’s still adjusting to after eleven years a prisoner in her own home, thanks to her terrifying ability to summon demons.

She manages to make peace with the resident ghost in Ava’s house, but she has to do some really fast talking when a tattooed, tautly muscled warlock shows up with Ava’s keys in his hand and deep-seated pain in his troubled eyes.

The Salvadoran Escobar clan is healing under new primus Gabriel’s leadership. But no one is likely to forget that the cruel former primus used Alessandro Escobar and his fearful gift as a weapon, unwilling though he was. When Gabriel sends him to Ava’s house for an extended “vacation,” Alessandro packs his bags with a heavy heart.

No one warned him the house was already occupied.

Elena is beautiful, skittish, fragile, with a demon for a friend and a nervous habit of hiding behind her books and her art. Alessandro drinks in her sweetness like water from a desert spring. But if he dares reveal who he is, what he is, the key to her heart could vanish, leaving him the lonely prisoner of his gift.

This time, for good.

Doll Crimes by Karen RungeDoll Crimes by Karen Runge:

‘It’s not that there aren’t good people in the world. It’s that the bad ones are so much easier to find.’

A teen mother raises her daughter on a looping road trip, living hand-to-mouth in motel rest stops and backwater towns, stepping occasionally into the heat and chaos of the surrounding cities. A life without permanence, filled with terrors and joys, their stability is dependent on the strangers—and strange men—they meet along the way. But what is the difference between the love of a mother, and the love of a friend? And in a world with such blurred lines, where money is tight and there’s little outside influence, when does the need to survive slide into something more sinister?

Proudly represented by Crystal Lake Publishing—Tales from the Darkest Depths.

Charon's Song by Skolion Authors CollectiveCharon’s Song by the Skolion Authors Collective:

A collection of stories by the Skolion Authors Collective.

In the Greek myths Charon is the ferryman who helps the dead across the rivers that separate the lands of the living from the underworld. Like Charon, each writer in this collection is a guide and guardian. Some of their stories are gentle and hopeful, some tell of betrayal and despair. There are tales set in the future of our Earth, or in magical realms of fantasy. Every story helps us look fearlessly into the face of death.

Step into the boat, gentle reader, and join us on this journey through the dark.
Stories by: Laurie Janey, Nerine Dorman, Cristy Zinn, Tallulah Lucy, Icy Sedgwick, Toby Bennett, Suzanne van Rooyen, Yolandie Horak, Masha du Toit, Cat Hellisen

Edited by Masha du Toit and Nerine Dorman

Autumn on Mars by SMAAutumn on Mars by SMA:

Tripp doesn’t know who he is, how he got here, or why this gorgeous man with dark eyes is the only familiar thing in sight.

But he does know this:
It’s Autumntide on Mars and love is in the air!

—Embrace the wonders of Fall in this dreamy and evocative MM seasonal romance—
Louisa May Alcott meets the science fantasy of Ray Bradbury!

Tripp is a young employee of the Division, corporate authority in the Crater region. Reserved and sardonic, he’s inexplicably drawn to Dolan—a goofy, enthusiastic romantic with a body made to remember.

But it’s not just strong arms pulling Tripp toward this onyx-eyed man. Both colleagues are victims of amnesia caused by their recent interplanetary re-assignment. Though they don’t even recognize themselves, they’re driven by intense chemistry that feels too familiar to be coincidence …

With work suspended for the month-long Autumntide festival, can Tripp let his walls down and learn to love—even when he’s a stranger in his own head?

Experience the festivities as two lost souls find each other—again—under the ochre skies of Autumn on Mars.

The Journey by SMAThe Journey by SMA:

The Routine’s dominion is cracking. Can Owen pick up the pieces in time to save humanity?

Step into the realm of the Routine once again in this sensually adventurous continuation of the Twisting Fates saga.

A MIND-BENDING SCI-FI ADVENTURE CONTINUES
It’s not every day you fall in love and get sent to assassinate an AI god.

Dispatched to discover the truth about the missing colony on Mars, Owen finds allies in unexpected conditions, and explores the depths of new love.

But nothing can be taken for granted under the AI’s shadow. The Routine is dangerous, and the man Owen is sleeping next to every night might be its most vicious secret weapon.

Cut off from the world, the young Initiate must confront the strength in his own heart—and be prepared to lose everything. What awaits them on Mars, and can he really trust his new allies? Each discovery leads closer to the truth, but there’s one fact Owen will never forget:

The Routine is lying to us all.

Join the journey as Owen pursues the secrets of the Routine—and learns the endless bounds of love and his own desire.

An immersively mysterious sci-fi romance adventure that spans the solar system!

Helter Witchelter by Lotta SmithHelter Witchelter by Lotta Smith:

A haunted mansion in a beautiful town… A chilling ghost awaiting for his next prey… Throw in a newbie witch realtor!

Fio Valentine is starting to settle into her sometimes vexing job in the Haunted and Hexed Properties Management Department of Quest Realty, but when her friend Suze invites her on a weekend trip to Santa Barbara, she’s less than excited about visiting yet another haunted house.

Rumored to be hosting the ghost of a wealthy businessman, the mansion could hold a clue to the disappearance of Chris Adams, the older brother of her foxy boss Jack, and since Jack has decided his current assignment is too dangerous for her, Fio takes Suze up her offer, her spirit animal Champ in tow.

Can Fio solve the mystery of the ghost in the garden and earn some points with Jack at same time? Find out in Book Three of the Witches Guide to Haunted Properties.

Night Raiders by James David VictorNight Raiders by James David Victor:

All the universe’s answers lie in the depths of space where it’s black as night.

Anders and Dalia have escaped and now know who the real enemy is. Their only chance to stop them is to venture into the depths of space that can steal a man’s soul. And sanity. They soon learn that there are more players involved and none of them are likely to care if they succeed or fail. Can they find a weapon that can defeat the Throne or will they fall to the raiders from the dark reaches of space?

Night Raiders is the third book in the Memories of Earth space opera series. If you enjoy stories in fantastic worlds of aliens, space travel, and genetic engineering, the Memories of Earth series will be right up your alley.

Into Bones Like Oil by Kaaron WarrenInto Bones Like Oil by Kaaron Warren:

“A tale of creeping dread … Recommended.” —Tade Thompson, author of Rosewater and The Murders of Molly Southbourne

“Dark, disturbing, visceral” (5 stars) —NB Magazine

In this gothic-styled ghost story that simmers with strange, Warren shows once again her flair for exploring the mundane—themes of love, loss, grief, and guilt manifest in a way that is both hauntingly familiar and eerily askew.

People come to The Angelsea, a rooming house near the beach, for many reasons. Some come to get some sleep, because here, you sleep like the dead. Dora arrives seeking solitude and escape from reality. Instead, she finds a place haunted by the drowned and desperate, who speak through the sleeping inhabitants. She fears sleep herself, terrified that the ghosts of her daughters will tell her “it’s all your fault we’re dead.” At the same time, she’d give anything to hear them one more time.

Fate by Kirtsen WeissFate by Kirsten Weiss:

Something wicked this way comes…

Witch Jayce Bonheim has spent the last four months waiting for a horde of dark magicians to come to town.

Now, they’ve arrived, embedded in a traveling circus.

And they’re bigger and badder than this ex-party girl could have imagined, wreaking havoc wherever they go.

But when a murder rocks her small town, Jayce must stop the chaos. Walking a tightrope between dark spells and past regrets, can Jayce stop a murderer and stop these magicians from transforming the world forever?

Silver Search by Rock WhitehouseSilver Search by Rock Whitehouse:

It’s been just six months since the unprovoked, brutal attack on Inoria that killed tens of thousands. The enemy has paid a price in the deep-space skirmishes since but seems in no mind to retire. But, what, in fact, is the enemy mind? What, in the end, do they want?

Carol Hansen and her Antares shipmates are going back to solve the mystery they found at Beta Hydri, taking a retinue of academics with them.

David Powell survived Sigma’s battle, dragging that battered ship to safety. Now promoted and on Columbia with his old friend Dan Smith in command, a new role, indeed, a new life, begins for him.

Joanne Henderson’s Intrepid continues its silent mission among the nearby stars, while Natalie Hayden and Ben Price begin to find connections beyond what happens inside a Sentinel.

But back at Fleet HQ, there is growing frustration about how to run a war when a light-year-per-day just doesn’t seem nearly fast enough.

Mary van Amsterdam and the Tragically Dead in RecoveryMary van Amsterdam and the Tragically Dead in Recovery by M.P. Wilhelm:

Now that Mary van Amsterdam is dead, she can finally live.

The Amsterdam Afterlife empowered Mary, in a way she’d only dreamed of in the living realm. She’s devoted herself to the Tragically Dead in Recovery—quirky dead animals, struggling to come to terms with the trauma of their untimely deaths. Their macabre appearance and occasionally prickly personalities reflect each one’s painful demise. Just when Mary thinks she has a handle on things, her eccentric sanctuary comes under attack by a rogue soul reaper who threatens to upend her posthumous ambition.

Mary has her own emotional baggage. Mortally separated from her friends and family, she’s moving on. There’s little time for reflection on her past. Her hands are full, supporting a troubled dead horse on his Deathday, and making a journey to Prague to rescue a newly deceased raven. Troubles multiply when Mary finds herself face-to-face with the stalking menace, reopening painful emotions from her tragic time among the living.

Can Mary stay on track and protect her vulnerable companions?

Follow Mary and her menagerie of misfits, as she discovers new, mystical abilities to manage the new, menacing threat. Will this change the course of the Amsterdam Afterlife forever?

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Indie Crime Fiction of the Month for November 2019

Welcome to the latest edition of “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of speculative fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some October books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Our new releases cover the broad spectrum of crime fiction. We have harboiled mysteries, cozy mysteries, small town mysteries, animal mysteries, culinary mysteries, historical mysteries, regency mysteries, jazz age mysteries, 1940s mysteries paranormal mysteries, crime thrillers, adventure thrillers, action thrillers, medical thrillers, legal thrillers, spy thrillers, police officers, private investigators, FBI agents, amateur sleuths, lawyers, murdered judges, murdered vicars, terrorists, spies, cults, crime-busting bakers, crime-busting witches, crime-busting realtors, crime-busting witch realtors, suicide sonatas, hijacked drones, mayhem and murder in country mansions, hospitals and the circus, in Florida, the Appalachians, Napa Valley, Hollywood, Washington D.C., the Cotswolds and much more.

Don’t forget that Indie Crime Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Indie Crime Scene, a group blog which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things crime fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

A Simple Country Killing by Blythe BakerA Simple Country Killing by Blythe Baker:

Death, and Helen Lightholder, return to Brookminster with the murder of the village vicar. As Helen investigates the ghastly crime, she soon finds herself a suspect of the local police. To clear her name and protect her friends, Helen must discover the truth and outwit a devious killer.

But Helen’s personal life is not without its own mysteries and one of them continues to stalk her in the shadows…

 

 

Fall's Killer Vintage by Anne Celeste BurkeFall’s Killer Vintage by Anne Celeste Burke:

In wine country, a federal judge is murdered and Aunt Lettie’s old friend, Judge Colin Brinkley, quickly becomes a suspect.

Lily, Austin, and her friends are excited about the Calla Lily Winery vintages entered in the fall Taste of Napa Challenge. The event turns out to be more challenging than anyone imagined when a fire ends the awards ceremony before the winners are announced. The plot thickens when police become concerned that one of the wines entered in the competition may have been a killer vintage. The U.S. Marshal Service is on the job, but when Aunt Lettie’s old friend becomes a suspect, Lily and her friends are soon caught up in the mystery too. Is the murder of a federal judge about trouble at a winery, the judges’ cases, or something more personal? Join Lily and Austin as they try to discover who’s responsible for murder, arson, and fraud.

A Jolly Little Murder by Beth ByersA Jolly Little Murder by Beth Byers:

December 1925

Violet Wakefield is determined to dive into the holiday and enjoy every occasion. She’s going to see the live nativity, listen to Handel’s Messiah, and attend the Nutcracker ballet. She’ll cover her house in all the holly and lights. In fact, Vi wants nothing more than to put up the largest Christmas tree she can locate and stuff it with gifts. ??She little expects, however, to stumble across a crime in action. When she gets pulled into the madness, her biggest concern isn’t the crime, it’s keeping Jack from committing a holiday homicide.

Kicked to the Curb by Joanna Campbell SlanKicked to the Curb by Joanna Campbell Slan:

Life in Paradise isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Cara Mia Delgatto feels like she is drowning in problems!

Stuart, Florida. Her ex-husband is refusing to pay their son’s college tuition (as promised), her sister is pulling mean pranks, and her old boyfriend has broken her heart…again. And that’s just the personal stuff.

She’s also concerned about keeping the cash register ringing at the Treasure Chest, her store specializing in upcycled, recycled, and repurposed goods.

An important media event goes sadly wrong and Cara’s famous temper gets the better of her. Then a prying reporter turns up dead, practically in Cara’s backyard. Could the reporter’s murder have anything to do with a century’s old blot on Florida state history, the infamous Dozier Boys School? Suddenly, Cara’s personal problems seem trivial compared to the abuse and murder of hundreds of innocent boys.

Kicked to the Curb is the charming second novel in the Cara Mia Delgatto cozy mystery series. If you like witty heroines, former flames reconnecting, and Florida’s beautiful Treasure Coast, you’ll adore Joanna Campbell Slan’s captivating tale.

Art Attack by Mike FaricyArt Attack by Mike Faricy:

Careful what you wish for . . .

PI Dev Haskell runs into Kristi McKenzie, his old high-school flame. Amazingly, she needs help . . .

Her artist husband has been missing for over half a year – and she’s never contacted the police!
Turns out he’s the guy she dumped Dev for way back when.
Her previous fiancé died under suspicious circumstances . . .
Dev begins his search but keeps coming up with more questions.
One thing is clear, someone is definitely on a mission to KILL Dev Haskell!

The Shield by Ken FiteThe Shield by Ken Fite:

When terrorists hijack weaponized military drones, a former government agent must team up with the people he swore he’d never work with to find the hijackers before they unleash the drones on DC.

 

 

 

 

Fatal Limit by Inge-Lise GossFatal Limit by Inge-Lise Goss:

A Murderer Is Loose In The Hospital

Dora Stephens can’t refuse this case.

When she witnesses Sheila, the aunt of her best friend, stagger out of the hospital and die from a traffic accident, Dora’s private eye instincts kick in. Something’s not right. Sheila had no known enemies… but someone wanted her dead.

Digging into the circumstances of Sheila’s death leads Dora on a devious path where she encounters lies, drugs, betrayal, and infidelity. She uncovers another mysterious death and stumbles upon a dark secret kept by some of the hospital’s top staff and privileged doctors.

Sheila was not the only nurse who had an affair with the hospital’s star surgeon. Would one of her romantic rivals stoop to murder? Or had she learned too much about the well-kept dark secret?

Wicked Decisions by Lily Harper HartWicked Decisions by Lily Harper Hart:

Ivy Morgan is getting married, which means she needs a dress. Now that she’s finally embraced the idea of planning for the wedding (rather than just enjoying the marriage and honeymoon) she’s gung-ho to check things off her list.

The local dressmaker Zelda Morris has just the thing for Ivy. Before she can show it to her, though, she’s murdered in the back of her own store … while Ivy waits for her to return to the storefront. Unfortunately for Ivy, because she didn’t hear a thing, that makes her a suspect.

Jack Harker isn’t happy with the turn of events. He knows Ivy is innocent but he’s in a precarious position. If word gets out that he’s protecting his fiancée, then the Michigan State Police could take over the investigation, and he’s worried they might fixate on Ivy. That means he has to dig deep for answers … and what he finds is troubling.

It seems Zelda was only one of a multitude of women dating local lothario Henry Spencer, a man who has more girlfriends than brains. One of those girlfriends happens to be Ivy’s aunt, Felicity Goodings, which means the long eye of the law falls directly on both of them.

It’s up to Jack and Ivy to untangle a mess of motives and suspects, which include her beloved aunt. That causes issues with Ivy’s mother, who is loyal to her sister to a fault.

It’s a tense time, and it only gets worse when Ivy decides to embrace her magic and use it to solve the case.

There’s a killer on the loose and Ivy might be a target because she can’t keep her nose out of trouble. She needs to discover a killer, avoid this individual’s wrath, and continue planning her wedding if she wants a happily ever after.

It’s going to be a tall task.

With Killer Views by CeeCee JamesWith Killer Views by CeeCee James:

Stella O’Neil has found a treasure of a house to list… a house possibly full of treasure, that is. Her new listing belonged to a man who died from a seemingly innocent accident. He also was embroiled in a bank investigation involving missing property and many enemies. The rumors have gone wild and people will stop at nothing to search it out.

If keeping treasure hunters out of her listing and avoiding being killed wasn’t enough drama, Stella has finally found her mom and a way to rescue her. With the rest of her family in place, and the neighbor and a hunky policeman friend to help, she’s determined to get her mom out. But someone is just as determined to stop her, even through murder.

Stella has come this far fighting to unite her family. She won’t stop until she’s finished. But will she regret it?

The Suicide Sonata by B.V. LawsonThe Suicide Sonata by B.V. Lawson:

Can a piece of music be cursed?

When a young marine biologist is found dead of suicide, his father can’t believe he took his own life and hires Scott Drayco to prove it was murder. But what of the strange song found with the young man’s body—the same song linked to a piano sonata that led to a wave of suicides in 1930s Hungary?

As Drayco digs deeper, he finds even more unusual aspects of the case not easily explained: the victim’s missing cellphone; his “Gang of Five” friends and their interest in the Akashic Records spiritual philosophy; and the gun used by the victim that was mysteriously stolen from a friend’s car.

Drayco fears a tragic incident from his own past may be clouding his objectivity. After all, the facts point to suicide, case closed. But when Drayco starts suffering from depression himself after playing the sonata, can he really be sure of what’s real and what’s imagined?

The Suicide Sonata is the fifth installment in the acclaimed Scott Drayco mystery series, a finalist for the Shamus, Silver Falchion, Daphne, and Kindle Book Awards.

Witchin' Around the Clock by Amanda M. LeeWitchin’ Around the Clock by Amanda M. Lee:

Witches are descending on Hemlock Cove and the town is gearing up for mayhem. Bay Winchester is ready to cover the event for her newspaper, and is excited to see faces she hasn’t interacted with in more than a decade.

Then the unthinkable happens.

The local blacksmith shop catches fire and Bay and her cousin Thistle risk death to try and rescue the owner. Unfortunately, they’re too late, and the man is unable to be resuscitated. Not only that, but it wasn’t the fire that killed him. No, he was murdered.

Bay can’t shake the feeling that something bad is about to happen. Harbingers of the feathered variety are filling the sky … and threatening attack. Dark magic is at work, and someone is plotting multiple deaths.

It’s up to Bay and her family to save the day, and they have to do it before cousin Clove gets married on the summer solstice. It’s a big day for the family, and a big moment for Bay. She’s the center of attention as the clock ticks down, the weight of the world on her shoulders.

The Winchesters won’t sit back and wait for a fight to come to them, they’ll go after the fight … and this is no exception. As death comes calling, they will answer.

Sit back and enjoy the ride. Love, marriage, death, and destruction are about to collide. You won’t want to miss a thing.

A Treacherous Performance by Lynn MessinaA Treacherous Performance by Lynn Messina:

Having inexplicably nabbed the Duke of Kesgrave, twenty-six-year-old spinster Beatrice Hyde-Clare is determined to marry him at once and no amount of handwringing from anxious family members, worried friends and well-meaning acquaintances will convince her to delay. Except…maybe she is a little swayed by her uncle’s efforts to make amends for treating her with cold indifference during her childhood. And her aunt’s concern about the growing scandal around her unfortunate habit of unmasking murderers in the middle of society events isn’t entirely unfounded.

And then there’s the truly unfathomable appearance on her doorstep of the former Miss Brougham, the spiteful heiress whose cruel taunts derailed Bea’s social career. Remarkably, the society matron has a mystery to solve and knows Bea is the only person who can help her. A dead grandfather, a missing jewel, a cryptic letter, an opportunity to condescend to her archnemesis—the case seems simple enough.

And yet somehow it all goes terribly, horribly wrong.

Game of Shadows by R.J. PattersonGame of Shadows by R.J. Patterson:

Titus Black wasn’t the trusting kind of guy, even for a black ops agent. And when he ventures into Russia to bring home a missing scientist, Black learns some information that makes him question everything he’s known to be true about his director, J.D. Blunt.

Meanwhile, Black and the Firestorm team uncover a treasonous plot from one of the most powerful men in congress. As Black’s worlds converge, he must thwart an assassination attempt or face dire consequences, including the end of the very organization that keeps his country safe from terrorists of every kind.

Eclairs and Extortion by C.A. PhippsEclairs and Extortion by C.A. Phipps:

Marriage, Menace, and Murder!

Is it just coincidence that a body turns up in the park the same day as Maddie’s mom arrives in Maple Falls?

And who is the dark stranger wandering about on the streets of her home town?

Preparations for a surprise seventieth birthday celebration for Gran are jeopardized when Maddie’s absentee parent shows up unannounced. Devoted to her grandmother, Maddie won’t allow her mom to ruin things like she usually does.

With three generations at logger-heads, a murderer to find, and a party to organize, life is about to get crazy.

If you love your eclairs with a side of mystery, click the buy button today!

The Maple Lane Mysteries are light, cozy mysteries featuring a quirky cat-loving bakery owner who discovers she’s a talented amateur sleuth.

Let Me Go by Willow RoseLet Me Go by Willow Rose:

What if a stranger told you that she believed your child is about to be killed? What if that woman was an ex-FBI profiler with a disputable reputation?

Would you believe her?

Eva Rae Thomas is chasing down a vicious killer, but no one will believe he even exists. If there are no unexplained dead bodies or missing persons, then how can there be a killer on the loose?

What they don’t understand is that the perfect murder is the one that doesn’t look like murder.

Can Eva Rae convince local law enforcement to help her with this case before the killer strikes once more? Or will she have to take matters into her own hands – again?

LET ME GO is the fifth book in the Eva Rae Thomas Mystery Series and can be read as a standalone.

Doll Crimes by Karen RungeDoll Crimes by Karen Runge:

‘It’s not that there aren’t good people in the world. It’s that the bad ones are so much easier to find.’

A teen mother raises her daughter on a looping road trip, living hand-to-mouth in motel rest stops and backwater towns, stepping occasionally into the heat and chaos of the surrounding cities. A life without permanence, filled with terrors and joys, their stability is dependent on the strangers—and strange men—they meet along the way. But what is the difference between the love of a mother, and the love of a friend? And in a world with such blurred lines, where money is tight and there’s little outside influence, when does the need to survive slide into something more sinister?

Proudly represented by Crystal Lake Publishing—Tales from the Darkest Depths.

Blind Justice by Rachel SinclairBlind Justice by Rachel Sinclair:

A prominent Hollywood A-List actor is killed on set.

It wasn’t an accident.

But the wrong woman stands accused.

Bianca Giancomo is a beautiful, and blind, music composer. The first woman to win an Oscar for best original score, she is well-respected, with a story that is made for Hollywood. She grew up poor, and handicapped, and had to teach herself how to play and compose music.

Now, however, she is simply Bianca Giancomo, accused murderess. Her lover, Chris Jenkins, was working on set with a prop gun when he was killed. It turns out the gun had actual bullets in it. Bianca is arrested for his murder when the authorities discover just how tumultous her relationship was with Chris.

Bianca had motive, means and opportunity.

Emerson Justice takes Bianca’s case, and finds that there are much more sinister elements afoot. Somebody wanted Chris dead, alright, and, when Emerson finds out why, she is shocked. And her own life becomes endangered.

Helter Witchelter by Lotta SmithHelter Witchelter by Lotta Smith:

A haunted mansion in a beautiful town… A chilling ghost awaiting for his next prey… Throw in a newbie witch realtor!

Fio Valentine is starting to settle into her sometimes vexing job in the Haunted and Hexed Properties Management Department of Quest Realty, but when her friend Suze invites her on a weekend trip to Santa Barbara, she’s less than excited about visiting yet another haunted house.

Rumored to be hosting the ghost of a wealthy businessman, the mansion could hold a clue to the disappearance of Chris Adams, the older brother of her foxy boss Jack, and since Jack has decided his current assignment is too dangerous for her, Fio takes Suze up her offer, her spirit animal Champ in tow.

Can Fio solve the mystery of the ghost in the garden and earn some points with Jack at same time? Find out in Book Three of the Witches Guide to Haunted Properties.

Rising Spirit by Wayne StinnettRising Spirit by Wayne Stinnett:

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, Jesse McDermitt has rebuilt his island in the Content Keys far better than it was before the storm. The task was enormous, but so was his need to make things better.

Unbeknownst to Jesse, an environmentally conscious woman from his past has stumbled onto a drug manufacturing cartel in Virginia while working on a pollution mitigation problem. The cartel responds by sending someone to murder people Jesse cares for. A contract killer stalks the woman all the way to Miami, leaving bodies in his wake.

With the help of an old flame in the FBI, Jesse goes to the snow-covered Appalachians to get to the root of the trouble; an unscrupulous prosecutor and dirty sheriff, who are producing LSD on an unbelievable scale.

Is Jesse out of his element this time? Can he protect the people he cares for most? It’s a race against time and Mother Nature to find a killer stalking the quiet neighborhoods of Coconut Grove.

Fate by Kirtsen WeissFate by Kirsten Weiss:

Something wicked this way comes…

Witch Jayce Bonheim has spent the last four months waiting for a horde of dark magicians to come to town.

Now, they’ve arrived, embedded in a traveling circus.

And they’re bigger and badder than this ex-party girl could have imagined, wreaking havoc wherever they go.

But when a murder rocks her small town, Jayce must stop the chaos. Walking a tightrope between dark spells and past regrets, can Jayce stop a murderer and stop these magicians from transforming the world forever?

ill-fated by Jody Wennerill-fated by Jody Wenner:

When Shana’s father joins a cult, she tries to find someone, anyone who will help her. Unsuccessful, she takes on the monumental task of fixing it herself. Eventually, she gets some support from the families of the other followers. Adding to her problems, the person she connects with the most is the leader’s son. She figures that’s the worst of it, until the rest of the group is found dead, and her dad is charged with eleven counts of first-degree murder and arson. With the trial looming, everything starts to nosedive as new revelations about the cult and their bizarre philosophies come to light. Shana’s confidence in her dad begins to waver. Maybe he isn’t a victim after all?

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Cora is elsewhere once again and shares a recipe

Yes, I will eventually post another post here. And in fact, I am currently working on a longer post about the latest reiteration of the science fiction versus fantasy debate that has broken out in the genre. I also have a new release announcement coming.

Today, however, I am guestblogging elsewhere yet again. I’m over at The Homepunks, a site chock full of recipes, household, gardening and DIY projects and tips for a more sustainable lifestyle run by Jen and Kate of the Skiffy and Fanty Show, one of my favourite SFF podcasts.

So head over to The Homepunks and check out my family recipe for delicious cider-pickled pumpkin. You know you want to.

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Cora is elsewhere yet again and recommends some books

As the title indicates, today I’m elsewhere on the internet again, namely at File 770, where I’m one of eighteen reviewers and fans from different European countries recommending their favourite recent-ish SFF books from their respective countries. The project was initiated by Bence Pintér from Hungary.

So if you always wanted to try some speculative fiction from Austria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain or Ukraine (plus Bulgaria in the comments), check it out.

And by the way, if you’re waiting for an e-mail from me, please be patient, because I’m very busy at the moment, so non-urgent e-mails occasionallyhave to be postponed.

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Cora time travels to 1964 and checks in on Perry Rhodan

Today, I’m over at Galactic Journey again with an article on the latest developments of Perry Rhodan – in 1964. It’s a follow-up to my earlier Perry Rhodan article from last July.

In addition to the latest developments in Perry Rhodan’s Solar Empire, you can also see some historical photos of East German pensioners visiting the West for the very first time as well as of the Bremer Freimarkt, featuring Anton Schwarzkopf’s awesome Sputnik ride, which unfortunately was already long gone by the time I was old enough to be taken to the Freimarkt. But I got lucky and got to ride Anton Schwarzkopf’s Zeppelin in the very few years it was touring.

I have taken a bunch of photos of this year’s Freimarkt and will post them, when I get around to it. Meanwhile, enjoy this video of the 1987 Freimarkt. I remember all of those rides well and rose most of them at some point. Except for Skylab and the Ranger, which were a bit too scary for me at the time. I eventually got to ride a Ranger years later and the ride actually looks much worse than it is. Unfortunately, I never got to ride the Skylab, because it was gone – sold off after two accidents, none of which were the ride’s fault – before I could get my courage together. And since the only surviving Skylab in the world is in Columbia, I doubt I will ever get my chance.

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First Monday Free Fiction: Loot

Welcome to the November edition of First Monday Free Fiction. To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on every first Monday of the month. It will remain free to read on this blog for one month, then I’ll take it down and post another story.

LootNovember is the month for remembering the dead, so here is a humorous crime story set in a cemetery. You can read “Loot” both in a standalone edition and as part of the crime fiction collection Murder in the Family. “Loot” is based on a true story, by the way, which happened to an elderly lady of my acquaintance.

So prepare to accompany Eudora Pennington to the cemetery to bury a loved one and watch pursesnatcher Jack Slater get his comeuppance in…

 

 

Loot

Katrina hadn’t been well for quite a few days. She didn’t eat, she didn’t drink, she didn’t want to go outside, she scarcely stirred from her basket in the bedroom. She did not even enjoy sitting in her favourite spot on her owner’s lap anymore.

Eudora Pennington had been very worried. After a sleepless night, for both her and Katrina, she finally decided to call the vet. The vet came, examined Katrina and then told Mrs. Pennington frankly that there was nothing he could do. Old age was finally taking its toll. The best thing would be to put her to sleep.

Eudora Pennington had refused, of course. If you spent seventeen years with a pet, you didn’t just have it put down, once it became old and ill and useless. It was inhuman and simply wrong. And this was what she told the vet. The young man just shrugged and left. He hadn’t helped Katrina, in fact he hadn’t done anything except making Mrs. Pennington angry and he’d charged her twenty-five pounds for the privilege, too. Typical, those young doctors of today were interested in nothing but money.

But though Eudora Pennington was unwilling to let her sole companion of the past seven years go, the fluffy white Persian cat died peacefully the following night anyway. Mrs. Pennington was heartbroken. Katrina was the only friend she had left, after all, the only living creature to share the loneliness of a large empty house. Her husband Albert was long dead, and they’d had no children. And they’d always had preciously little contact with the relatives on either side. So all that had been left after Albert’s sudden death seven years before were a few friends and the neighbours who dropped in every now and then. And Katrina, of course. But now Katrina was gone as well.

The morning after Katrina passed away, Philip, Mrs. Pennington’s neighbour, came over to offer his assistance. Mrs. Pennington liked her neighbours. They were good people and had always been there for her, when she needed help. But that morning Philip wanted to take Katrina away. And Mrs. Pennington knew only too well where he would take her. He’d take her to the knacker’s. And Mrs. Pennington knew only too well would happen to her then.

“I will not have my poor Katrina end up as glue or as meat and bone meal,” she told him.

Philip had been very understanding. He assured her that he knew how she felt, though he was pretty sure that they did not actually make glue out of dead animals anymore. And meat and bone meal had been banned over that mad cow scare years ago. And he really wished there were some other way. But unfortunately it was forbidden to bury pets in the garden or anywhere else except at designated pet cemeteries.

The idea of a pet cemetery had crossed Eudora Pennington’s mind. Katrina would have a decent grave there, complete with a headstone and flowers. It was what Mrs. Pennington wanted for Katrina, what her trusted companion deserved. But unfortunately there was a grave problem. Pet cemeteries were very expensive. Too expensive for Mrs. Pennington’s small pension.

For two days, Eudora Pennington brooded over what to do with poor Katrina’s body. She considered simply burying Katrina in a nice corner of the garden or in a pleasant spot in the woods. But that was forbidden, just as Philip had pointed out. Besides it might poison the groundwater or something like that. To be honest, she didn’t quite understand all that. All she knew was that burying Katrina in the garden was against the law and Mrs. Pennington didn’t want to get in trouble with the police. She had always been a law-abiding citizen, after all. No, she would have to find another way. Then, on the second night after Katrina’s death, she had an idea.

There was one place where she could give Katrina a decent burial without accidentally poisoning the groundwater. And Katrina would have as nice a grave there as she would have had at a pet cemetery. What was more, she would even rest in the company of somebody who had cared for her almost as much as Eudora Pennington herself had.

Mrs. Pennington would simply take Katrina’s body to the cemetery and bury her in her husband’s grave. Albert would have liked to have Katrina with him. And this way, Eudora Pennington could visit the graves of both her loved ones at the same time. It was the perfect solution.

***

This story was available for free on this blog for one month only, but you can still read it in the crime fiction collection Murder in the Family or in a standalone edition. And if you click on the First Monday Free Fiction tag, you can read this month’s free story.

Check back next month, when there will be a new story available.

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