Donovan's sharp series debut introduces the "Spider Women" of New Hampshire's Black Widow Agency, who right the wrongs done to innocent women by dastardly men. Katie Mahoney founded BWA after her ex-husband pulled strings and got her kicked off the police force. Young computer forensics expert Alexandria Axelrod, witty office manager Margo Norton and financial whiz Jane Landers all have their own stories of male mistreatment. The Spider Women don't hate all men, though: those who are sympathetic (like local cop Joe Kennedy) and gay (like Margo's brother, Marcus, and his partner, Antoine, who own the shop next door) are considered tolerable. The latest BWA client is automotive designer Amber Gordon, whose ex-husband gained custody of their daughter through nefarious means. Donovan, who has assisted the FBI with her own computer forensics expertise, leavens this tale of female vigilante justice with humor and insider details. (Oct.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Black Widow Agency: The Black Widow Agencyby Felicia Donovan
Strong, sexy, smart, and stealthy! The ladies at the Black Widow Agency aim to bring justice to wronged women like themselves, using a lethal blend of computer forensics, surveillance technology, and women's intuition. The owner is ex-cop Katie Mahoney, a natural at undercover work. Her competent staff includes Alexandria, the mysterious, black-clad cybergoddess
Strong, sexy, smart, and stealthy! The ladies at the Black Widow Agency aim to bring justice to wronged women like themselves, using a lethal blend of computer forensics, surveillance technology, and women's intuition. The owner is ex-cop Katie Mahoney, a natural at undercover work. Her competent staff includes Alexandria, the mysterious, black-clad cybergoddess who keeps a pet tarantula; Margo, the crafty office manager, who's not afraid to don a leather bustier for the cause; and Jane, who crunches numbers amid hot flashes. The four Black Widows form a tight sisterhood–depending on each other for emotional support, laughter, and frequent doses of chocolate.
When the Black Widows hear Amber Gordon's heartbreaking story of sexual harassment, ending in a ruined career and lost custody of her daughter, they vow to spin a trap for the sexist automotive company run by Amber's former father-in-law.
The agency of the book's title is a female-only, New Hampshire-based company that takes on cases involving victimized women. The agency's four sleuths and Divinity, the pet tarantula, try to make things right. In their first adventure, they set a trap for the automotive-parts maker where sexual harassment cost Amber Gordon her job and custody of her daughter. Debut author Donovan draws on her expertise in law-enforcement technology, cyber crime, and running a company specializing in computer forensics to make her tale believable and authentic. This lively debut will appeal to fans of Lisa Scottoline's thrillers about an all-female law firm and P.J. Tracy's crime novels about the close-knit Monkeewrench gang. Donovan lives in New Hampshire.
Jo Ann Vicarel
Read an Excerpt
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
&ndash william congreve
Alexandria Axelrod hunched her tall body over the bank of computer screens and watched as the file opened up onscreen. Within seconds, she saw what she was looking for.
"Bingo," she said quietly, to no one in particular.
Katie Mahoney wandered over. "Good one?" she asked.
"Listen to this," Alexandria said as she read from the screen. "Dear Sweet Peaches?"
"Sweet Peaches?" Katie laughed.
"That's what it says. Dear Sweet Peaches, I'd love to pick your fruit again soon. Will you be ripe the twentieth at eight p.m.?"
"What's with all the fruit crap?" Katie asked. "Does he tell her he's plucking her cherry each time?"
Katie Mahoney reached into the pocket of her blazer, whipped out her PalmPilot, and brought up her calendar. "Friday the twentieth at eight p.m." she noted as she tapped the screen with the stylus. "Guess I'm not going out on a date that night," she sighed. "And neither are you," she added, knowing full well that it was not likely Alexandria had a date that night, or any other night, for that matter.
Alexandria ignored her as she scanned from screen to screen. Multiple stacks of computers whirred around her, creating a con-stant low buzz that Alexandria found very comforting. This was their digital operations room, more affectionately called the cyber-cision center, where the investigators of the Black Widow Agency did the bulk of their computer forensic and analysis work.
Alexandria, known by her teammates as the "Geek Goddess," loved this windowless space. Katie Mahoney hated it. She'd rather work in her own little corner office complete with the wall poster of a shirtless Tom Selleck, and a solid maple desk with a fully loaded forty-millimeter handgun in the top drawer and a fifth of Glenlivet in the bottom drawer.
Just then Margo Norton, their office manager, opened the door. Margo was wearing a flowing, chocolate-colored dress that nearly matched her skin.
"Whatcha y'all up to?" Margo asked as she glanced between the women.
"Planning to tape the next Oscar-award-winning video."
"Well, hold your digital penetrating cameras because y'all have a visitor out here, a Mrs. Gloria Duvay, that's D-U-V-A-Y, who just came in, and she looks pretty damned jammed up, if you ask me."
Alexandria's hands flew across the keyboard as she typed in the name. She tapped another button as the image of a middle-aged woman in a designer suit, sitting in a chair in their confer-ence room, appeared on a screen. The woman glanced nervously around the room. Alexandria zoomed in and quickly grabbed a digital photo of the woman's face for their records.
"Got it," Alexandria called to Katie. "Mrs. Gloria Duvay, DOB 11/14/57 of 14 Abernathy Woods, Langton. Nice neighborhood. Husband is Richard Duvay, president of Du-Tech Architectural Designs. Business has been booming over the last few years. Net earnings up 38 percent over the previous year. Seven-figure bank account on him, no listing on her."
"Sweet Jesus!" Margo exclaimed. "And the only figures I ever see rising are those damned red numbers on that damned scale every morning. Which reminds me, I just made some fresh scones, not that you would care to know," she said flashing her brown eyes at Alexandria and muttering, "damned anorexia poster child," un-der her breath.
"Thanks, Margo. Settle Mrs. Duvay into the conference room and we'll be right there." Despite the large, comfortable chair, Gloria Duvay shifted nervously as the two women walked in. The first woman was tall and model-thin, with short, nearly spiked black hair and dark eyes of almost the same color. Her pale face was expressionless as she strode in and sat down across from Gloria Duvay. When the tall woman crossed her long legs, Gloria couldn't help but notice a small tattoo of a black widow spider on her right inner ankle. The young woman's fingernails were painted dark red, giving her a somewhat gothic appearance.
The other woman was shorter, large-bosomed, and wore a deeply cut blue sweater beneath a linen blazer that was stretched to capac-ity. She had long, curly blonde hair with reddish highlights, very light blue eyes, and a small nose that reflected her Irish roots. She extended her hand.
"How do you do, Mrs. Duvay," Katie began. "I'm Katie Ma-honey, and this is my associate, Alexandria Axelrod."
Alexandria gave a small nod to Gloria Duvay, but didn't smile, didn't offer her hand.
"How can we help you today, Mrs. Duvay?" Gloria Duvay looked at them both. "My friend Donna Dor-mond once used your-services-and recommended you."
Katie smiled in recognition. "Of course. And how is Donna?"
"Very well. She just started a new job at a mortgage company, and she's moving to a new home in just a few weeks."
"Excellent," Katie said.
"She wouldn't have been able to afford that–or the Jaguar, or the vacation home–without your help."
"One of the goals of the Black Widow Agency," Katie explained, "is to make sure that the women we serve get what they deserve."
"And that men do, too," Alexandria added quietly.
Katie shot her a look, and Gloria gave a small, nervous laugh.
"So what is it that we can do for you today, Mrs. Duvay?"
"It's my husband, Richard. We've been married for almost twenty-five years. He owns his own business, an architectural firm, which he started from the ground up and has worked hard at for many years. It's one of the leading architectural firms in the area. Perhaps you've heard of it? Du-Tech Architectural Designs?"
Katie nodded to her to go on but didn't give any indication whether she recognized the name or not.
Gloria Duvay continued. "Richard is a wonderful man and a good father to our children, but lately-things just haven't been the same between us, if you know what I mean. He seems rath- er-distracted."
"I understand," Katie said sympathetically.
"The other night I walked into his den and his computer was turned on. There was an e-mail from a woman named 'BeeBee' that said, 'We're on for the eighteenth at six p.m. Can't wait. Hugs, BeeBee.'"
"Did you notice the return e-mail address?" Alexandria asked.
"No. I heard my husband in the hallway and moved away. I didn't want him to think I was snooping, but I just don't under-stand what is going on." Gloria Duvay fought back tears.
"This must be such a stressful time for you," Katie said as she leaned forward and lightly touched Gloria Duvay's arm. Without asking, Katie reached over to a side table, picked up the decou-page-covered box of tissues that Margo Norton had made, and of-fered them to Gloria. Katie Mahoney's twelve years as a cop interviewing people was well spent. She knew every trick of the trade to gain sympathy and trust in people and was capable of looking a pedophile square in the eye and saying, "It must have been so hard for you with all those children around."
"And what would you like us to do for you, Gloria? May I call you Gloria?"
"Yes, of course. I...I guess I'd like you to find out if he's-in-volved with this woman."
"Very well. We can help you with that," Katie said.
"How will you do it? Find out, I mean."
Katie turned to Alexandria.
"By the time you get home," Alexandria began in a monotone, "you will have received an e-mail from Divinity Chocolates with the subject line of free chocolate.' You are to open that e-mail and then delete it."
Gloria Duvay looked at Alexandria suspiciously."And what will that do?"
"That will enable what is known as a rootkit invasion on your computer. It will launch a series of other programs, including a keystroke logger. We will then be able to examine the computer, as well as record each and every keystroke made."
"How will I know this-this root thing is there?"
"You won't. The rootkit is designed to operate in stealth mode. It conceals its own presence and instantly disguises itself as other files whenever attempts to detect it are made. It will remain unde-tectable until we remove it."
Gloria Duvay shook her head and said, "But I'm certain he de-leted the e-mail because
I looked the next night and it was gone."
"The e-mail is most likely still there," Katie said.
"I don't understand," Gloria Duvay said, confused.
"Let me explain it this way," Katie began. "In school, we had this awful nun, Sister Mary Ignatius."
Gloria Duvay gave a small smile.
"She wouldn't let any of us talk to each other during class or study halls, so we developed a system where we'd write notes to each other in our composition books, but we'd tear off the sheet behind the actual note and pass that along. Of course, if we got caught, it appeared to be a blank page until someone took a pencil to it and rubbed the pencil on its edge to bring up the impression of the original note."
"Yes, I remember doing that," Gloria said.
"Well, that's very much how a computer's hard drive works. Even though the e-mail may have been erased, it isn't really gone. It sits in what's called the slack space of the hard drive for quite some time. Most people think by deleting a file or a message they've got-ten rid of it, when in most cases they've just shifted it around. We use state-of-the-art forensic tools to recover those files and mes-sages."
Gloria Duvay shook her head. "I had no idea," she said.
"Most people don't. That's what brought Enron down," Katie said.
"I see. And how will you get these files?"
"We will access it remotely from here."
"You can do that?"
Alexandria smiled for the first time. "In a heartbeat."
"My goodness," Gloria said.
"Pretty amazing, isn't it?" Katie asked. "Incidentally, Alexandria is one of the leading digital security experts in the country. She learned her stuff from the ground up by hacking her way into or-ganizations like the FBI and MicroGage."
Gloria Duvay eyed Alexandria suspiciously. Alexandria showed no expression when she said, "The FBI was easy. MicroGage took a while."
"And do you still do this?"
"Not since I arrested her," Katie said.
Alexandria watched satisfactorily as the look of shock regis-tered on Gloria Duvay's face.
Gloria Duvay was astounded. "And now you work here, to-gether?"
"Yes. Alexandria discovered that her boyfriend, a fellow hacker, was using his talents to help organized crime syndicates digitally hide and launder billions of dollars, so when she threatened to turn him in, he set her up. He was very clever to leave no evidence to charge him with, but he made sure there was plenty to hang Alex with. The company Alex was caught hacking into was petri-fied of the public relations debacle it would face if its customer base found out their credit card numbers had been compromised, so they refused to prosecute."
"You were a police officer?" Gloria Duvay asked, giving Katie a quick once-over. Katie laughed.
"Hard to believe, but yes. That's why I was so good at under-cover work, because I don't exactly look like a cop. My specialty was undercover narcotics investigations until I realized that the bad guys were using more and more technology to hide evidence, arrange for drop points, solicit children for sex, launder money, etc. I started one of the first computer crime and computer foren-sics units in the state. The state police now have their own division, but the backlog of computers that need to be examined is three years long because they're so poorly funded. Unfortunately, cases are being dropped because they can't process the evidence quickly enough.
"I was working undercover, trying to penetrate an illegal drug ring, when I found out that my husband, who was a fellow police officer, was having an affair. When I filed for divorce, my real iden-tity was somehow leaked," Katie paused,"which almost cost me my life. As if getting shot wasn't bad enough, I was accused of tamper-ing with evidence in a case and got kicked off the force. I lost my pension and my benefits."
"And your ex-husband?"
"He was promoted to captain a few months ago."
"He didn't get punished for it?"
"The police department did its own internal investigation and every officer that possibly could have been interviewed was. Need-less to say, the internal investigation was closed out as 'unfounded.' No one produced any information. That's okay," Katie said as she glanced at Alexandria, "sometimes justice takes a little longer."
Gloria Duvay shook her head.
"Then there's our office manager, Margo Norton," Katie went on. "Her husband once asked her to deliver a backpack to someone but neglected to tell her it contained cocaine."
"Dear heavens," Gloria said.
"I arrested her as soon as she handed the package over to me. She's now raising their young son alone. Our finance director, Jane Landers, has an ex-husband who insisted throughout their forty-one years of marriage that she wasn't even capable of paying their bills. She earned her CPA degree after he took all their money and his girlfriend to Bermuda. Bermuda refuses to extradite." Katie paused. "So you see, Gloria, we have all been wronged by our men in one way or another. That's why we fight so hard to make it right for women."
"My goodness," Gloria Duvay said, "you must all hate men."
Katie glanced at Alexandria for just a second before answer-ing, "Not at all. We just despise the type of man who thinks he can dump on women and get away with it. We fight back by gathering evidence, utilizing the latest technologies in computer forensics and high-tech surveillance equipment. That equipment accounts for 50 percent of our resources."
"What's the other 50 percent?" Gloria Duvay asked.
"Women's intuition," Katie answered.
Meet the Author
Felicia Donovan (New Hampshire) is a recognized expert in the field of law enforcement technology and currently works at a New England-based police department as a civilian Information Systems Manager. Swearing by the adage “every keystroke is recoverable,” she has worked on the forensic recovery of computer crime files and has assisted the FBI on cases related to digital photography.
Donovan is a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the New Hampshire Police Association. She also founded CLEAT (Communications, Law Enforcement and Technology), an organization of law enforcement professionals in the New England region.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Four very diverse women who have been wronged, have come together to create a detective agency: a financial whiz, a computer genius with a pet black widow, an ex-cop, and a manager/cook. Their specialty is to help other women who haven't been able to get results using the usual means.
They often use very creative ways to help these women. Sometimes I found that hard to read. But overall, I loved the book. The four women work great together and are each complex in their own way. I can't wait to read further books to learn more about each of their pasts.
I'm not a spider fan, so some of the discussion of the black widow bothered me, but overall it just added to the story.
I really enjoyed the use of modern technology to solve their cases. Hope there will be lots more of that in future books. I highly recommend this book and look forward to reading Spun Tales.
This novel is a fun and intelligent read that women of all ages and backgrounds can enjoy. It teams up women and technology in seeking justice for those wronged in a smart, realistic and humerous way. A really fun book that portrays women in an empowering light. Can't wait for the sequel!