Monday, September 25, 2023

When a cozy mystery takes a 90-degree turn by Joan Havelange


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I love writing cozy/whodunit mysteries. But this time, I’m venturing out of my comfort zone. With, ‘Moving is Murder.’ This mystery is in the thriller genre.

The concept for this thriller came to me with the thought of what would happen if my protagonist, Mabel, wasn’t as clever as she thought. And she got into a heap of trouble? I was going to use Mabel, my leading character from my cozy mystery series. But I was advised early on to bring in a new character. The readers of my cozy mystery series would not believe Mabel could get herself into the dire circumstances that envelop my new protagonist, Linda.

My thriller starts out like any cozy mystery. Things go awry when Linda trusts the wrong person.

It’s a fast-paced thriller. And even as I wrote it. I wasn’t sure if Linda would best the antagonist.

How well do you know your neighbours?

Linda Burton is house-sitting for her aunt’s friend in the pretty little town of Glenhaven. Linda, who has spent her working career in the city, has fallen in love with the pleasant little country village. Everyone she has met is so friendly.

Strolling down the alley one evening in search of Gertrude, a pet cat. Linda hears a voice complaining about burying a body. Not completely convinced she heard correctly. Linda decides to emulate her heroes. Amateur detectives. She tries her hand at detecting. Unfortunately, Linda puts her trust in the wrong person.

Can Linda outwit the killer? Will her aunt Violet figure out the clues Linda has left? And even if Violet does, will it be too late for Linda? And will Violet fall into the same trap?


An excerpt from ‘Moving is Murder.

Chapter One


“Gertrude,” Linda Burton hollered for the third time. The petite, freckle-face woman with auburn hair stood on a wooden veranda overlooking the backyard. Linda rested her forearms on the railing, her brown eyes searching for movement. Was the cat prowling in the yard? Or had it wandered away? A warm spring breeze rustled the lilac bushes that lined one side of Mabel Havelock’s backyard. Linda took a deep breath, enjoying the floral aroma of the lilacs. Overhead, a half-moon shone. The moonlight filtered through green leafy trees onto Mabel’s newly planted garden. There was no sign of Gertrude, Mabel’s cat.

Linda was house-sitting for Mabel Havelock. Mabel had broken her foot. She was a good friend of Violet Ficher, Linda’s aunt. Her Aunt Violet explained that she had to get Mabel out of town and away from her garden. Because broken foot or not, Mabel would be out in the garden, hoeing and weeding. So, her aunt took Mabel to Calgary, where they both had daughters.

Linda, who was newly divorced, had just quit her job as a kindergarten teacher. Now, she was between jobs and at loose ends. The peace and quiet of house-sitting appealed to her.

She’d been a kindergarten teacher at a school in Regina for ten years. Linda loved teaching the children. But then, after her husband of ten years walked out on her for another woman. Linda decided it was time to make a complete change in her life. Linda often visited her aunt in Glenhaven and loved the sleepy little town. City life was fine while she was working, but now the country life was calling. Maybe not only a change of jobs but also a change of location was what she needed. She was still young at thirty. She’d find a job. Her lips twisted. Her ex-husband Howard’s gift to her on her thirtieth birthday was the announcement he was leaving her for a younger woman.

Linda took in a deep breath of the fragrant, fresh air. She felt the tension leave her body. Yes, this friendly community of Glenhaven looked inviting. It might be time to move.

“Gertrude,” Linda called again. She wanted the cat in the house. If something happened to Gertrude while she was house-sitting, she would never forgive herself. Linda had grown very fond of the tabby cat. Her ex said having a pet in an apartment was unfair to the animal to be alone all day. And as always, she’d been compliant. It was time to make decisions for herself. If she did move to Glenhaven, she would get a cat. She had fallen in love with Gertrude.

A small furry animal shot across the lawn. The animal stopped and crouched. Looking down from the porch, Linda couldn’t tell if it was the cat, a gopher, or a squirrel. The animal darted across the grass into the lilac bushes. “Kitty, kitty,” Linda called in the high-pitched voice one used for calling cats. She padded down the porch steps and across the lawn. Linda sat on her heels, peered under the shrub, and called again. She pressed her lips together and sighed. There was no answering meow.

Linda scrambled to her feet and brushed the grass off her knees. It would be a fabulous evening for a stroll down the back lane. Something she would never consider in the city, but she might find Gertrude, who was probably a frequent visitor down the alley. The alleyway, lined with trees and hedges, was undoubtedly good hunting for the errant cat. But Mabel’s cat was old, and Linda suspected Gertrude was unsuccessful in her hunts.

A brilliant streak of light shot across the night sky, leaving a long, shimmering white tail. Linda tilted her head back, watching the path of the meteor. The meteor disappeared as quickly as it came. Didn’t people make a wish on a shooting star? If she had, what would she want to wish for? Maybe good health? She was already healthy. Good fortune? She was fortunate. A safe and happy life? Linda smiled. The shooting star was long gone. Too late to make a wish.

Linda trod across the lawn. Dew was already forming, making the grass damp. Her feet, encased in red rubber flip-flops, felt squishy. “Gertrude,” she called as she ducked under a branch from a low-hanging tree. A leafy twig brushed her head. Combing the leaves from her hair, Linda continued down the back alley, calling for the cat. She listened. No answering meow happened, just rustling in the grass as some small rodent scurried away.

Continuing her trek down the laneway, Linda pursed her lips and shook her head. A lot of the backyards had overgrown hedges, such a contrast to the neighbours’ front yards. The yards along the street were well-maintained. With green-mowed lawns and neat, well-tended flowerbeds. If she could see past the shrubs and trees, would she also see untidy backyards?

As she passed a tall wooden-planked backyard fence, Linda chuckled to herself. Who were Mabel’s neighbours trying to keep out? After all, this was little Glenhaven, Saskatchewan. Linda lived in Regina and never walked down a back alley alone at night. But Linda felt at ease in Glenhaven, a friendly little community in the middle of the Canadian prairies. She had nothing to fear as she walked down the dark alley, even though she had only the moon and the stars to guide her.

A low, menacing growl sent the hairs on the back of Linda’s neck to stand up. She sucked in her breath and froze. The threatening growl came from behind a tall chain-link fence. Ferocious barking followed. Linda’s heart leapt as she darted to the far side of the lane, falling on her hands and knees. Scrambling to her feet, she looked across the narrow gravel road. A massive Rottweiler charged at the metal fence. The fence shook. Linda recoiled, backing up even farther from the raging beast. The enormous Rottweiler bared its teeth, viciously growling and barking. The angry animal, snarling and growling, lunged repeatedly at the fence. The chain-link fence rattled, swaying with each leap. The enraged Rottweiler stood on its hind legs, pawing to get out. Linda turned and fled. Her short legs pumped as her flip-flops slapped the gravelled laneway. She raced down the alley away from the chain-link monster. When the barking stopped, Linda stopped running and bent over. She put her hands on her knees, her breath coming in gulps. Who the heck lived there? And what did they have, that needed a Rottweiler to protect?

Linda’s breath eased. She stood, brushed off her hands and knees, peering down the dark alley toward the chain-link monster. She would walk down to the other end of the alleyway and return home via the sidewalk. There was no way she was going back near that crazy dog. Sure, the dog was behind the chain-link fence. But what if somehow it escaped? She was not going to take that chance.

Calling again for the cat, Linda waited and listened. Again, no answering meows, only the cries of a far-off hoot owl. After her heart returned to its regular beat, Linda resumed the trek down the lane. She slowed her pace. It was a beautiful night. Linda wasn’t going to let some mangy hound spoil her walk. The owl hooted again as she passed more backyards, all with tall wooden fences. Linda stepped into a pothole and stumbled. She shook the gravel from her flip-flop. In her opinion, the alleyway had more than its fair share of potholes. But still, walking down this alley was a treat. It was something she would never do in her city neighbourhood at night.

A light gust of wind whistling through the leaves in the trees blew Linda’s short auburn hair. The warm breeze felt wonderful on her bare arms. Overhead, the stars twinkled, and a sliver of the moon appeared now and again through the clouds. Country living was the best, Linda thought as she continued her stroll. Everyone here would know everyone on the block. In the city, you were lucky if you knew who lived in the next apartment. And you minded your own business. She heard that people in a small town were a little nosey. But maybe that was the price you paid for living in a caring community. Someone would always be ready to offer a helping hand. The idea of moving to Glenhaven was growing. She was house-sitting for Mabel for a week. She’d see at the end of the week if she still thought that moving was a good idea.

Strange high-pitched chirping sounds made Linda stop in her tracks. Her eyes darted, searching in the darkness for the source of the weird chattering. It definitely didn’t sound like crickets or birds. Uttering a small, frightened cry, Linda ducked. A flock of chirping, bird-like creatures flew straight at her from across the alley. She sucked in her breath, whimpering as she felt the flutter of wings inches above her head. The hoard of small black, clicking creatures beat their wings, circling. Linda covered her head with her hands. Were these bats? Didn’t bats get in your hair? Or was that an old wives’ tale? It was never an old husband’s tale. Giggling nervously, Linda hunkered close to the ground.

The strange fluttering hoard flew off into the night. Linda rose to her feet, brushing the dirt from her hands on her denim shorts. She looked at the night sky, only the moon and the stars. No flying, nocturnal creatures. Linda blew out a breath. Whatever they were, they had disappeared. Satisfied, Linda resumed her walk. Her feet crunched on the gravel. It was quiet. The only sounds now were the crickets, no high-pitched chirping bats. A dog barked in the distance, not the ferocious barking monster dog. This was more of a yapping. Was Gertrude in the dog’s yard?

Linda hurried down the rutted alley, listening for a cat and dog fight. Her flip-flop twisted, coming off her foot, and she stepped on a stone. Linda grimaced. She ought to have worn runners. She picked up her sandal and hopped on one foot to an old, weathered wooden garbage stand. She sat on the edge of the structure, rubbing her foot. Examining her flip-flop, she pondered the name. Flip-flop was an apt name for the sandal. The darn thing flipped off her foot.

Linda wrinkled her nose at an unpleasant odour, and it wasn’t the garbage stand. Her Aunt Violet told her the town had stopped the back-alley garbage pickup four years ago. Mabel left a note with the day that the town collected the garbage. And the instructions to wheel the garbage bin to the end of the driveway for garbage pickup. No, the tall hedge behind the garbage stand was the source of the peculiar stinky odour. Linda decided the hedgerow must be boxwood. It was a beautiful hedge, but it had an odd smell. She remembered the odor from her childhood. Her mother had a boxwood border in her yard.

“Son of a bitch,” swore a man from the other side of the hedge.

Linda stopped shaking her flip-flop and froze. Was that digging? What an odd time to be gardening. The man swore again. Linda dropped her sandal and tried to peer through the thick hedge behind the old garbage stand.

“Son of a bitch, first I dig the damn grave, then I have to fill the damn thing up.”

Linda’s eyes widened. She sucked in her breath. What had she heard? Was someone digging? Whose yard was this? Did he say grave? She couldn’t see through the hedge. And did she want to? No. The hair on the nape of her neck stood up. The man could be coming to the garbage stand. She slid off the wooden frame into the tall weeds, shaking. Elbows pressed to her side, she crouched, trying to make herself small. Would he see her?

The man grunted, and the sound of digging continued. “Damn it, all to hell. Where else am I supposed to hide the damn body?”

A chill ran down Linda’s spine. Her heart thumped in her chest. She held her breath, afraid to make a sound. On the other side of the hedge a man was digging a grave.

A small furry creature scrambled up beside her. The furball was Gertrude. The orange tabby cat climbed onto her lap, angrily meowing in a high-pitched wail. Linda hugged the cat. Her eyes darted to the hedge. Would the man come out to investigate?

A large barking dog came charging down the back lane. Gertrude’s back arched. She hissed, jumped out of Linda’s arms, and shot into the nearby hedge. The dog closed in on Linda. The big, shaggy sheepdog stopped, sniffed her, then licked her face. Still stunned at what she’d heard, Linda, with shaking hands, patted the friendly dog’s head. Who was that man? And who was he talking to? Were there two men?

Across the alleyway, an outside light turned on, and a door slammed. “Bongo, Bongo, get back here. Bongo, Bongo. Here, boy.” The dog gave Linda one last lick, shook his furry coat, and loped back up the lane. “Here, boy. Good boy,” a man’s voice said. The door banged shut, and the outside light shut off.

Linda sat very still, her head cocked, listening for the ominous voice. All was quiet. There were no voices. Menacing or otherwise, only the breeze rustling the leaves in the shrubbery. Her heart leapt. Was the man peeking out at her through the hedge? She scrambled to her feet. And bending low to the ground, Linda hastened a retreat. Her heart pounded as fast as her feet, back down the alley, unmindful of the ruts and potholes. She ran with one sandal on her foot, the other abandoned in the weeds by the garbage stand. The chain-link monster greeted her by charging the fence. The ferocious barking gave her more reason to run. The backyard light was a welcoming sight. Her breath came in big gulps as she plowed straight through the garden. The other flip-flop flew off, and Linda’s bare feet sunk into the soft soil. Sitting at the top of the porch steps was Gertrude. The cat greeted her with an impatient meow.



1 comment:

  1. Great start of an intriguing story. Wishing you the very best with this novel. Thanks for sharing.


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