A few days after Sylvia Leominster is murdered, private investigator Paula Mitchell interviews Sylvia’s fiancé in their small-town Rhode Island jail. Warren Wade’s fingerprints are all over the murder weapon, he has no alibi, and Sylvia broke up with him the night she was killed. After another young woman friend of Sylvia’s is bludgeoned to death, Paula is dismayed when the police keep Warren in jail. They claim the second murder could have been committed by a copy-cat and remind her Warren’s fingerprints are still on the weapon that killed Sylvia.
Working with her best friend who often hires Paula to investigate cases and who is Warren’s lawyer, Paula searches for answers. Paula and her computer guru lover narrow down the suspects to the victim’s friends. The group is led by a mesmeric young man with political ambitions. Paula doesn’t trust him, especially when she learns that all of Sylvia’s friends have lied during her interviews. At the preliminary hearing, some answers begin to emerge. Paula zeros in on the killer and sees firsthand how friendship and loyalty can be used for personal gain. With Warren’s freedom on the line, she has to find a way to capture the real killer. But in doing so, she doesn’t realize she’s putting herself and her own best friend in danger.
First in a series featuring Paula as a feisty private investigator.
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Excerpt from PERFECT VICTIM
Springton’s archaic white stucco police station houses three cells in the back, one for women, two for men. When I entered, I knew only one was occupied. I showed my authorization to Detective Brudder who read it slowly.
“Don’t know what you and your lawyer friend are thinking about, Mitchell,” he said finally, putting the authorization on top of a pile of papers. “We’ve got this Wade dead to rights.”
Was he making a joke? I didn’t think so. Brudder had been absent when they handed out funny bones.
“That remains to be seen,” I said in my most condescending manner. Brudder always brought out the best in me.
“Tell you what, Mitchell. Why don’t you just go home and do something feminine, something you’re more qualified for, like knit a sweater or make some soup?”
“Detective, do you know what century this is?” I asked. Maybe I’d bring him some of my homemade soup next time I came to the station. After he tasted it, he’d never suggest I do any cooking again.
He snorted. Brudder was a huge man with ham‑like hands and a big belly. He had a large head with receding brown hair, substantial nose and thick lips. His brown eyes were the only soft things about him. He had complete confidence in his competence. His picture was next to the word “arrogant “ in the dictionary. But sometimes I wondered if he was smarter than he acted. Sometimes. This wasn’t one of them.
“Look,” I said. “Are you going to show me in to see the prisoner, or do I have to get my friend the lawyer over here to talk to you?”
Although he didn’t like female lawyers any more than female private detectives, Brudder had a grudging respect for Geri. He muttered something I didn’t catch and strode away, rattling his keys. I went to wait in the interrogation/visitor’s room, setting my huge briefcase-size purse, which I called my battle bag, on the floor and fished out my notebook and pen.
After what seemed a like a long wait, Brudder showed the prisoner into the bleak room. Warren Wade, shackled hand and foot, sat down awkwardly. He looked like the newspaper photo I’d seen earlier. Sad brown eyes, jowly cheeks, and a slight, double‑dimpled chin almost made him into a pudgy Michael Douglas. Black‑rimmed glasses slid down the bridge of his nose, compressing his nostrils into slits.
“Are the chains necessary, Brudder?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.
“He’s already murdered one woman. You want to be his next victim?”
I looked at Warren. He didn’t seem to care one way or another, so I let it go.
“I’ll be right outside the door,” Brudder said. “If you need me, scream.”
“Funny,” I muttered. “Very funny.”
The heavy door shut with a bang. Warren wouldn’t look at me. I wanted to reach over and push his big glasses up the bridge of his nose.
“Did Detective Brudder explain who I am?” I asked.
Warren shook his head, not meeting my eye. Not the auspicious start I had hoped for.
“I’m Paula Mitchell, a private detective. I work for your lawyer, Geri Smithfield.”
He nodded, not seeming to care. Still in shock, I guessed. It had only been the night before that they arrested him, and three nights ago that his girlfriend, Sylvia, had been brutally murdered.
“Okay if I ask you a few questions?”
He shrugged. I wrote down the date and time and said, “Tell me about you and Sylvia Leominster.”
“I didn’t kill her,” he said, his voice anguished.
I nodded. Waited. A slight tremor went through me. I’d heard similar words before.
“We’d been dating for almost a year and were going to get married in December.”
He shifted in his seat, making his chains clank. “She broke up with me.”
The night she was murdered, I knew from the statement he gave the police.
“She tell you why she wanted to break it off?”
“No.” His Adam’s apple bobbed up and down. “She said she didn’t love me anymore.”
“Where were you when this happened?”
“We were in the gazebo at her parents’ house, and she was acting really strange. I kept asking her to explain, but she finally broke down crying and ran into the house, locking me out. I went back to the gazebo-‑I don’t know how long I sat out there‑-then finally drove home.”
“Did you see anything unusual when you were out there? Notice anybody?”
He shook his head, his glasses almost coming off his face completely.
“You’re sure?” I asked.
He nodded, carefully.
“The police came to see you the next day?”
“Yes. Brought me in.”
“Your fingerprints are on the murder weapon, Warren. How do you explain that?”
“I used the fire poker several times last winter, so I guess maybe my prints would still be there?”
I nodded. It was possible. “Okay. Tell me a little about yourself. What do you do for a living?”
Still, he wouldn’t look at me. “My father was a commodities broker on Wall Street.”
I raised my eyebrows, not knowing what this had to do with Warren’s making a living.
He continued slowly. “After he made several million, he put it all into safe annuities right before he passed away. My mother died when I was small, and I have no brothers or sisters. My father left me everything.” He stopped and pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose. I waited.
“I’m into computers and spend most of my time surfing the ‘net.” The corners of his mouth tugged at the thought, but he didn’t really smile. “I pick an area of interest then learn all about it using all the resources available-‑internet, books, periodicals, encyclopedias‑‑everything.”
“What’s your latest interest?” This sounded like a neat idea to me.
For the first time during our meeting, he showed some animation. He pushed his glasses up, his shackles clinking together, and looked straight at me. “Cooking.”
“Cooking? You mean gourmet?”
“All kinds. Regional, gourmet, French, German, English, Russian, Greek.”
English? What, bread puddings and pot roast? Fish and chips? I couldn’t imagine.
“What got you interested in cooking?”
He looked away. “Sylvia’s father is in the restaurant business. I thought I should know more about cooking.”
“I see. Did you talk to him about this interest of yours?”
“Oh, yes.” He pushed his glasses up again and studied me for a moment, then looked away. “I worked in the restaurant kitchen a few times to get a hands‑on feel for it.”
“Did you do this often? Study something, then do some actual work?”
“Of course,” he said. “When I studied gardening, I made a garden. When I studied wine, I had a wine cellar built in my house. When I studied the Bible, I went to Israel.”
This was a serious guy, I decided. I didn’t see how any of it would help his case, but it was interesting.
“Okay,” I said. “Can you tell me something about Sylvia’s friends and acquaintances? Anyone you think might have had a reason to hurt her?”
He shook his head. “I’ve been racking my brain. It makes no sense. Everyone loved Sylvia. It must have been an intruder, Ms. Mitchell. It had to have been.”
An intruder who didn’t steal anything. The police had ruled that out because nothing was taken. I turned to the page in my notebook with a list of her friends. “Her best friend was Amity Nelson?”
“Yes. Friends since grade school. I never even heard them argue.”
I listed all the other names on the page. Warren kept shaking his head. Until I got to Roger Quillen.
Hesitantly, Warren said, “Roger and Sylvia used to date. I think she broke off with him. I’m not sure he’s entirely over her, but it’s hard to tell. He’s going out with Amity now, and they seem happy together.”
“Okay. How about her job? She worked at the newspaper office?”
“Yes. She loved it there. Hadley and Doris were very kind to her.”
I nodded. Since I knew both of them, I found it hard to imagine either of them bludgeoning a young girl to death. It was rather surprising that I had never met Sylvia because I visited the newspaper occasionally to do research. Less and less, though, since so much had been archived onto the internet.
“She never mentioned any problems at work?”
He shook his head.
“Okay, how about her parents. Did she get along with them?”
“Sylvia and her dad were very close. I can’t believe he’d hurt her.”
“How about Mrs. Leominster?”
He glanced at me, then away, a habit I was getting used to. He smiled. “She’s a beautiful woman.” He sighed.
“Oh?” I asked, raising my eyebrows.
“I thought Sylvia would be like her when she got older.”
“In what way?”
“You know. Mature. Gracious. She has this tinkling laugh . . .”
I was confused. Not a good thing for a detective. It sounded as if Warren was a bit smitten with Mrs. Leominster. Or at least the idea of her.
“How did Sylvia and her mother get along?” I asked.
Again, Warren glanced at me, then away. “All right, I guess.” His tone held a notable lack of enthusiasm.
I noted it in my notebook because that’s what notebooks are for. “You don’t sound so sure.”
He stared at the wall. “They had some arguments.”
“What about?” Getting him to answer was like pulling staples from a cardboard box.
“The way Sylvia dressed. Her staying out late. Things like that.”
“Sylvia was how old?” I asked, trying to remember from the information Geri had given me.
So, Warren was six years older than she. “And her mother still tried to control her that much?” I asked, a bit surprised.
“There’s something else you’re not telling me,” I said.
He sighed. “Mrs. Leominster doesn’t like me much.”
“Whyever not?” I asked, really surprised. I thought Warren seemed like a nice young man, a bit intense, perhaps. And he had lots of money, so they had to know he wasn’t marrying Sylvia for hers.
“She thinks I’m lazy.”
“Really?” I said. “Not intellectually.”
He gave me a sharp look. Then he smiled at me, a first, making his glasses dent his chubby cheeks. He pushed the pesky spectacles back up. “Physically. I’m not in the best of shape, as you might have noticed. I don’t do any work like Mr. Leominster does, even though he’s rich enough to retire.”
“I see,” I said, although not really. Why should he work? He had enough money. “Well, I have all I need for now, Warren. I may have to come back with some follow‑up questions.” I put away my notebook.
He stood up awkwardly when I did, the chains clanking. He held out his hand, and I shook it. It was dry and cool. Not the hand of a man who was nervous. “I didn’t kill her.”
“I believe you,” I said, although it wasn’t one hundred percent true. But I did feel sort of sorry for him and wanted to keep his spirits up.
“Thanks,” he said. “You want to scream for Detective Brudder, or should I?”
“Ah, a sense of humor.”
He smiled, the second time. I went and banged on the door. Detective Brudder took awhile to open it. “I thought you were waiting right outside,” I grumbled. “’Bye, Warren,” I said over my shoulder. “I’ll keep you informed.”
“Thank you, Ms. Mitchell.”
I left the building in a thoughtful mood. I liked Warren. Unassuming, smart, gentle. Maybe a little immature. He didn’t seem the type to fly into a violent rage and kill his girlfriend. Time to interview some of his and Sylvia’s friends. And the parents.
Parents first, I decided. They would probably be home grieving, but the friends would most likely be working until this evening.
I drove through the peaceful streets of Springton and up the hill where the wealthiest people lived. Our town was three miles long by two miles wide, and people joked that if you sneezed while passing through, you’d miss it. I’d lived in Rhode Island all my life, and had no desire to move. Even this far inland, I could smell the ocean, or at least imagined I could.
I parked my red Mustang convertible on the curving driveway in front and rang the Leominster’s doorbell next to the ornate dark‑paneled door. A blond woman of medium height and build, about forty‑five or so, answered. She was dressed in a dark green, clingy, silky, low‑cut tunic and matching leggings.
“What do you want?” she asked in a smoker’s voice, looking me up and down. I wore my usual working outfit-‑expensive gray slacks, creased just so, matching blazer, and a plain t‑shirt. Gray flats with rubber soles. I hoped my light brown hair was pretty much in place. I have rather regular features, and am five-six, slender with blue eyes. Nothing in my appearance should scare people away, at least I hoped not.
“Mrs. Leominster?” I asked.
“No, I’m her sister. What do you want?”
“I’d like to talk to Mr. and Mrs. Leominster, if I may. I’m a private detective working on the case.”
“You can’t be serious,” she said. “Why would they want to talk to you?”
“To get at the truth, maybe. They can’t possibly believe that Warren Wade killed their daughter, can they?”
“Lindy? Who is it?” The voice behind her sounded much like the sister’s, but less hoarse.
Lindy’s grasp on the door loosened as she turned to answer. I slithered inside.
“A private detective,” Lindy said. “Wants to talk to you and Jake.”
A haggard almost twin to Lindy stepped into the foyer. Her blond hair looked like straw, and dark circles rimmed her hazel eyes. She wore a shapeless brown shift and tennis shoes.
Mrs. Leominster looked at me, and I couldn’t help feeling sympathetic. It must have shown.
“Let her in, “ she said. “We need this cleared up as quickly as possible. The more people working on it, the better.”
Lindy turned back to me, surprised to see me inside. I gave her my most empty smile, stepped away from the door, and followed Mrs. Leominster into a room next to the foyer, leaving Lindy to shut the door. I figured the room was a parlor or withdrawing room, but wasn’t sure. I didn’t think it was the living room where Sylvia had been murdered. If I’d been her mother, I wouldn’t be sitting in that room for a long, long time. If ever.
I had just gotten settled into a love seat when Lindy entered the room and demanded, “Let’s see some identification, please.”
I stood up again and showed them my license. Took two business cards out of pocket in the front of my battle bag, giving each woman one.
Lindy sat down on the floral couch next to her sister. “What do you want to know?”
I looked at Mrs. Leominster. “You and Mr. Leominster were away when it happened?” I took my notebook out of my purse.
She nodded. “We were in New York City all weekend, at a trade show for restaurateurs.”
“How did you find out?”
“A telephone call. It was awful.” Tears welled up in her eyes.
“Really, Ms. Mitchell, is this necessary?” Lindy asked. She grabbed a pack of cigarettes and a lighter from her pocket and lit up angrily.
I ignored her. “You and Mr. Leominster were together the whole time of the incident?” No one wanted to believe that a parent or parents would kill their child, but watching the news was proof that it happened often enough.
“Well, no. I had been out shopping while Jake was at the convention. We got back to the hotel room about the same time, and soon after, the phone call came. But the police checked his alibi. Several men he knows saw him there.”
“And you went shopping with other wives?” I asked.
“No. No, I was alone. But no one can think I’d hurt my own daughter!” Her eyes looked haunted, desperate.
Lindy patted her hand. “Of course not,” she soothed.
I tried to be relentless, although it was hard. “You and Sylvia got along well?”
Mrs. Leominster looked away from me then. “Most of the time,” she said, her voice soft, hesitant.
“They had the usual mother‑daughter spats,” Lindy said, glaring at me. “Nothing else.”
“And where were you that night, Lindy?” I asked, hoping the challenge in my stare would intimidate her, at least a little.
“I was at home. Alone. But I loved Sylvia, and I had absolutely no reason to harm her.” She dragged angrily on her cigarette, then stabbed it out in the large crystal ashtray in front of her.
“None of us did,” Mrs. Leominster said.
“How about Warren?” I asked. “Do you think he is capable of such an act?”
“I . . . I don’t know,” Mrs. Leominster stammered. “I didn’t think so before. Now I’m not so sure. He might have gotten really angry when she broke up with him.”
“Did you know she was going to do that?”
“No.” Her voice was so soft, I had trouble hearing her. “No. I had no idea. I only found out when I read it in the paper. I can’t tell you why she broke it off, either.”
I had to find out why. That seemed to be the key. “Who else might she have confided in? A friend? Another relative?”
Mrs. Leominster looked at her sister, then away, and shook her head. “Perhaps Amity. But Sylvia is . . . was always reticent about personal things.”
Amity was on my list. I moved her to the top. “Could I see where it happened?” I kept my voice soft, but watched Mrs. Leominster carefully.
“Really!” sputtered Lindy, and lit another cigarette. “You have a lot of nerve.”
“It’s all right, Lindy,” Mrs. Leominster said resignedly. She stood up. “It happened in the living room.” She led the way, me following, Lindy bringing up the rear.
The living room was next to the room we’d been in, the doorway barred with yellow tape. As I looked inside, Mrs. Leominster began to sneeze. It took her awhile to stop, and I took the opportunity to look around. Of course the police had combed the whole room. Not expecting to find anything, I could still get a feel for it.
The room was large. I realized that the red‑brick fireplace shared its chimney with the room we’d just left. A stand with brass-handled tools stood next to it, the poker ominously missing. The furniture was done in green and gold damask and silk, the tables and other wood furnishings in dark oak. Heavy draperies spilled onto the floor, and sheer curtains framed the view of the back garden, a pool and the white wooden gazebo. The gazebo where Warren said Sylvia broke their engagement just before she was murdered.
My eyes were drawn back to the room, back to the stain over by the fireplace. Blood–about impossible to remove from carpeting. I shivered slightly and turned away “Thank you for your time, Mrs. Leominster,” I said when she finally stopped sneezing. “I appreciate it. I’ll do everything I can to help find out who did this awful thing.” She bowed her head a moment, then offered me her hand. As cool and dry as Warren’s.
“Although, to be honest, I am not that fond of Warren, I find it hard to believe he could do such a thing, Ms. Mitchell.”
“Mr. Leominster isn’t here?”
“He’s at the restaurant. He became too restless staying home, and things there worry him. He’s one of those men who thinks he has to do everything himself. I urged him to go, to get his mind off . . . you know.”
I nodded, waited for Lindy to say something, offer her hand, but she merely puffed on her cigarette. I put Lindy at the top of my suspect list.
I said goodbye as Mrs. Leominster walked me to the door. Glancing at my watch as I strode toward my car, I saw it was almost five. I’d grab a hamburger at Wendy’s, then‑‑ Something streaked in front of me, and I stumbled. I watched the black cat run into the bushes. I turned around to see if anyone had seen me almost make a fool of myself.
A curtain in one of the front windows twitched. Someone had been watching me.
I received this book free from Net Galley in exchange for a review.
This was a great book. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one.
It had mystery, suspense, romance (and tastefully handled without details) and humor. The private investigator, Paula Mitchell, was a hoot, but still not one you would want to mess with.
The story had you believing several people were the suspect which is what I like.
A very good book, that I would highly recommend.
Perfect Victim by Jan Christensen is a Heron’s Nest/Victory Editing publication. This book was released in May 2013. This a Paula Mitchell P.I. novel. Sylvia is murdered right after she breaks off her engagement to Warren. Naturally, this gives Warren the best motive, and so in short order he is arrested. Paula’s best friend, Geri is Warren’s attorney, so Paula is hired to investigate. Paula starts out interviewing Sylvia’s parents, relatives, friends and co-workers. What she finds is that although Warren had the most obvious motive, he wasn’t the only suspect. Sylvia has some relatives that have had a history of violence and might have been involved in some shady deals. Then there are Sylvia’s friends. This is a group of people Sylvia has known since high school, at least. They all behave rather strangely. With the help of Steve, Paula’s computer guru boyfriend, Paula and Geri uncover a slew of secrets and crimes, affairs, and jealousies. Before they can get to the bottom of things, Warren goes to trial. Here, there are some laugh out loud moment in court, but also, some really good courtroom drama. This is a really light mystery. It’s very easy to get into. The perfect book to curl up with when you are in the mood for a good whodunit.Paula is very easy to relate to. She’s a flawed character that has a dark past. She has major trust issues with men, but that’s understandable because of her history. Geri is a good secondary character, but I would like to know more about her, maybe in future installments. Steve was absolutely dreamy. I really think he is perfect for Paula. This book would appeal to any mystery lover. There is some language, some sexual situations, but no real graphic violence. Overall a B+
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