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Covenant Hall: A Bay Tanner Mystery

Covenant Hall: A Bay Tanner Mystery

4.8 9
by Kathryn R. Wall

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Private Investigator Bay Tanner is hired by a young mother desperate to locate her estranged family. Joline Eastman's daughter is dying of leukemia, and all other sources for a bone-marrow transplant have been exhausted. A yellowing photograph and a handful of wartime letters are the only clues she has to offer. But it's what she's not willing to share that


Private Investigator Bay Tanner is hired by a young mother desperate to locate her estranged family. Joline Eastman's daughter is dying of leukemia, and all other sources for a bone-marrow transplant have been exhausted. A yellowing photograph and a handful of wartime letters are the only clues she has to offer. But it's what she's not willing to share that may hold the ultimate solution to saving her daughter's life.

Meanwhile, Bay has her own family to worry about. A phone call from Lavinia Smalls, her aging father's companion and caretaker, sends her rushing to the hospital. A few, whispered words, uttered in a moment of semi-conscious confusion, shatter her world and launch Bay on a quest that will redefine everything she thought she knew about herself.

Battling time, Bay and her late husband's brother, sheriff 's sergeant Red Tanner, search desperately for Joline's missing family, only to discover that an old murder and a haunted woman from Bay's past may hold the key to everything.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In Wall's poignant ninth Bay Tanner mystery (after 2008's The Mercy Oak), the Hilton Head, S.C., PI faces two daunting challenges: finding a bone marrow donor for young leukemia patient Kimmie Eastman by locating the long-lost sisters of Kimmie's African-American mother, Joline Eastman, and tracking down Julia Simpson, a half-sister Bay first learns about from reading the will of her dying father, retired judge Talbot Simpson. What Bay doesn't expect is the lack of cooperation from Joline's relatives and old friends when confronted with Kimmie's plight-or the fierce resistance from Julia's guardian to Bay's request to meet her half-sister. As Bay copes with her father's imminent demise, she must also confront her fears about marrying her police sergeant fiancé, Red Tanner, her late husband's brother. While the pace can be slow at times, series fans are sure to cheer Bay's efforts to make peace with the past. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Private investigator Bay Tanner takes an urgent case that can only be solved by unearthing buried secrets. Joline Eastman's daughter Kimmie is dying of leukemia, and so far no bone marrow match has been found. So Joline asks Bay to find some long-estranged family members who might help. For some reason, however, she refuses to talk about Kimmie's father, who would seem the most likely match, and her current husband is strangely reluctant to have Bay search for other family members. In addition, Bay has her own problems. As her beloved father, retired Judge Talbot Simpson, lies in the hospital with worsening heart problems, she discovers the obituary he wrote for himself. Shockingly, the obituary reveals that Bay has a sister. Her father's longtime companion Lavinia Smalls is obviously hiding something from Bay, but with Kimmie at death's door, Bay has to let it go. Luckily, her strained relationship with her brother-in-law Red, who's also her fiance, improves when he quits the police force and Bay hires him as an investigator in hope of uncovering some of the many long-hidden secrets of the South Carolina lowlands. While Bay winkles out the relatives she hopes can be a donor for Kimmie, she coincidentally finds the sister she never knew existed, along with a tale of misunderstanding and tragedy. The latest case for Bay (The Mercy Oak, 2008, etc.) is tense, introspective and hard to put down.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
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Bay Tanner Mysteries , #9
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Read an Excerpt

Covenant Hall

A Bay Tanner Mystery

By Kathryn R. Wall

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2009 Kathryn R. Wall
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-9157-5


It began, as so many of life's critical events do, with a phone call. One moment you're working or reading or sleeping or shopping, blissfully unaware that your whole existence is about to be altered; the next, some disembodied voice plunges your ordered world into chaos.

Wednesday afternoons are generally quiet at the office of Simpson & Tanner, Inquiry Agents. We occupy a small space in a one-story building just outside the gates of Indigo Run Plantation, about halfway down Hilton Head Island. It was unusually warm, even for March. In the Lowcountry of South Carolina, winter is generally confined to a few cold days at the beginning of the year, and spring bursts through with the azaleas, often in late February.

My partner, Erik Whiteside, worked on his laptop at the reception desk just outside my door. We'd been busy for the past couple of months steadily processing job applications and volunteer statements for the island's recreation board and several other county agencies. Background and criminal checks had become routine, even for me. Computers and I coexist, but there's no love lost on either side. Except for the fact that he's tall and blond and handsome, Erik could rightly be classified as a geek, and he'd taught me well.

I'd just finished running the final name on my list through the series of databases we'd subscribed to. I clicked on the icon to print out the report and leaned back in my chair. I stretched and tried to work the kinks out of my neck. Absently, I massaged the ache that had settled in my right thigh. The damage caused by the attack had healed well, with only a minor scar, and physical therapy had me nearly back to normal. I'd even begun jogging on the beach again, taking it easy until I built the muscle back to full strength. But when I sat too long in one position, it still tended to cramp up on me.

I stood and stretched again, and the tightness eased. The phone rang. I reached for the receiver, but Erik beat me to it. I paused, left hand extended, and studied my mangled ring finger.

This other remnant of that horrifying night had not fared so well. The jagged scar still throbbed when I let my hands dangle at my sides, and the nail had grown back in crookedly. Still, it could have been worse. The tenderness would fade, or so the doctor assured me. The swelling had taken a long time to go down, and it now resembled my other fingers more than it did a Vienna sausage.

In a few more days, I'd have no viable excuse for not putting on Red's engagement ring.


"Yes?" I stepped around the desk and into the doorway of my office.

"It's Lavinia," he said. "She sounds kind of strange."

I whirled back and snatched up the receiver. Lavinia Smalls has been the principal caregiver in the old antebellum mansion on St. Helena Island since before I was born. Through the chaos of my childhood, her steady hand and loving heart had been the rocks to which I'd clung. In the past years, her care of my aging and crippled father had enabled me to live my life free of this burden and responsibility. I owed her a great deal.

"What's the matter?" I snapped into the phone.

"Nothing to get excited about," she said calmly. "Your father's been feelin' poorly today, and I'm taking him in to see Dr. Coffin."

I frowned. "Why isn't Harley coming to the house?"

Her pause set off tiny alarm bells in the back of my head. "He wants to run a couple of tests." Again she hesitated. "At the hospital."

"Tell me the truth, Lavinia. Are they admitting him?"

"Bay Tanner, I swear you just have to see the worst in everything. If it was somethin' more, I'd tell you, wouldn't I?"

I wasn't so sure about that. Lavinia had been protecting me — and my family — for as long as I could remember.

"Maybe," I said. "Should I meet you there?"

"No need, child. We'll be back in a couple of hours. I just didn't want you to worry if you called and we weren't here."

I glanced up as the outer door opened, and a striking black woman in a sharply tailored gray suit stepped tentatively through the door. Erik rose to greet her, and I snapped my attention back to the phone.

"You'll call me? As soon as you get home?"

"Of course. Now I have to go." I could almost see the softening of the stern expression on her wrinkled brown face. "Don't worry, child. I'll take care of things."

"Yes, ma'am," I said automatically before I realized she'd already hung up.

I replaced the receiver gently in the cradle. My stomach felt as if I'd been plunged suddenly to earth from a great height, like one of those drop-of-terror rides at Six Flags.

Retired judge Talbot Simpson had celebrated his eightieth birthday in January. Lavinia and I had thrown him a massive party, inviting all his former courthouse cronies, the remnants of his Thursday night poker gang, and his old hunting buddies. Truth to tell, there weren't all that many of them left, but those who were physically able showed up. There was a lot of talk of the old days — trials won and lost, doves and ducks blasted out of the sky, scandals and rumors of scandals, and whatever-happened-to-so-and-so reminiscing. For once, Lavinia let the bourbon flow unchecked and didn't even force the cigar smokers out onto the verandah. It had been a bang-up party, and the Judge had enjoyed himself immensely.

"Good to see everybody," he'd said when the last guest had shuffled down the steps. "Better than having them all standin' around gawking at me in my coffin."

I remembered I'd laughed at that. "I promise I won't let anyone gawk," I'd said.

"Good," my father had replied, not sharing the joke. "Just see you stick to that when the time comes."

A chill like the bitterest winter wind off the ocean shook me, and I sank back into my chair. A moment later, Erik stepped in and pulled the door closed behind him.

"Is the Judge okay?" he asked.

"Just some tests," I said, trying to force circulation back into my face. I knew my attempt at a smile must have looked more like a grimace.

"Lavinia will take care of it," he said, and I cringed.

"He's my father," I snapped, then deliberately relaxed my shoulders.

"Sorry. Who's the woman?"

"Potential client," he answered.

"Any idea what her problem is?"

"Nope. She wants to talk to you."

I ran a hand through the tangle of my reddish-brown hair and sucked in a long breath. "Give me a couple of minutes and send her in."

"Right," he said and closed the door after himself.

I stood again and pulled the black blazer off the back of my chair. I was plenty warm in the white silk turtleneck, but I felt more professional with the jacket on. I straightened my desk, retrieved a clean legal pad from the right-hand drawer, and made certain the small recorder had a fresh tape. I smiled a little, remembering Erik's disdain for the antiquated technology, but it worked for me. Maybe if I lived another forty-one years I'd figure out how to use a BlackBerry.

My hands were folded demurely in front of me on the desk when the door opened.

"Bay, this is Joline Eastman. Please have a seat, ma'am."

"Thank you."

The slim black woman perched on the edge of the client chair and smiled briefly over her shoulder as Erik retreated. She didn't offer her hand, so I kept mine to myself.

"I'm pleased to meet you, Ms. Eastman."

"It's Mrs." Her thin smile didn't reach her deep brown eyes.

"How can we help you, Mrs. Eastman?"

She pulled a manila folder from a black leather briefcase and extracted a single paper and what looked to be an old photograph. She hesitated a few seconds, appearing reluctant to relinquish possession of the documents, then laid them faceup in front of me.

It looked like a genealogy, one of those charts you can print out from a computer program designed to keep track of the family tree. Lines and boxes spread out across the page. Without studying it too closely, I could see some prominent blank spaces.

The picture was indeed old, mounted on stiff cardboard and with that grainy, blurred finish so prevalent in early-twentieth-century photographs. It was a black family — parents and three children — and what were probably one set of grandparents as well, dressed in their best. The women's frilly, high-necked blouses and jaunty hats perched on upswept hair made me guess 1920s. The photo had been taken outdoors, and the backdrop looked to be some kind of store or business.

"Your family?" I asked and looked up to see Mrs. Eastman with another picture clutched tightly in her slim fingers. Unconsciously, she rubbed her thumb back and forth across its surface.

"Yes. Mine. My grandfather is the young man. I think." She paused a moment to clear her throat, and I saw pain flicker in her nearly black eyes. "I can't say for certain."

"They look like nice people."

Her expression changed again, and anger replaced the misery I thought I'd detected just a few seconds before. "I wouldn't know. That photo and these old letters are all I have to go on." She laid a bundle of envelopes on the desk beside the genealogical chart.

I had no idea where this was going, but I could sense some deep emotion barely held in check. I gave her time to gather herself by flipping the picture over to study the faded photographer's imprint. Hard to read, but I thought it might have said Charleston. Someone had written the date, 1919, in the upper right-hand corner, in pencil.

"I'm sorry." It sounded lame, even to me, but I couldn't think of what else to say.

"I want you to find them," Joline Eastman said. "My family. Or what's left of it." Suddenly she rose and laid the second photo on my desk. In color, it showed a gangly teenaged girl with light brown skin and braided black hair dressed in tennis whites, the racket held in front of her as if she were preparing to return serve. "If you can't," she said in a quavering voice, "my daughter is going to die."


I spent the next half hour taking notes and recording the heartbreaking story of Kimmie Eastman.

She'd been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia right before Christmas. The disease had advanced rapidly, and a bone marrow transplant had become her only hope.

"We've exhausted all the other possibilities," Joline Eastman said. "It's much more complicated for us than it is for ... Caucasians." Her chin rose fractionally as if she expected me to argue with her.


"The survival rate for any kind of transplant is nearly forty percent less for African-Americans. The specialist said it's because of our heritage. Our race is older, and we have more complex tissue types."

"I assume you've had immediate family tested."

"Of course," she said. "Her brother came closest, but not enough to take the risk. At this stage of the disease, rejection would almost certainly be ... would lead to a bad outcome."

I hated the medical doubletalk. Tiptoeing around the words seemed so pointless. What Joline Eastman meant was that her daughter's rejection of noncompatible bone marrow would be fatal. There would be no second chance to get it right.

"And your husband's family?" I asked. "May I have his name, by the way?"

"It's Jerry. Jerrold." She spelled it for me. "He's a doctor, an OB-GYN. But it's irrelevant. He's not Kimmie's father." She paused. "And you need to deal directly with me, Mrs. Tanner. Only me. I expect you to protect my privacy. I don't want my husband to be ... bothered with this."

Bothered? It seemed a strange choice of words.

"Are you in touch with her biological father?"

"No." Joline tugged down the hem of her skirt and studied the floor.

"Have you made an effort to contact him?"

"There's no point. Leave him out of it."

The intensity of her reply seemed a little over the top, but I let it go. "Isn't there a registry for bone marrow donors? Like with other organs?"

Her head snapped up, and her eyes again flashed with anger. "Of course! Don't you think I've explored every possible avenue to save my child?"

It was a rhetorical question to which I had no answer, and I scribbled a few notes to give Joline time to get herself under control.

"So you need to find your own family." I picked up the old graying photograph and studied the smiling faces. "The photographer was from Charleston, but I can't make out his name. Do you know where this was taken?"

She shook her head. "My great-great-grandfather owned a grocery store. At least that's what I remember hearing. He and his brothers started it after the Civil War, I think. That could be where the picture was taken, but I'm not sure."

"It's a place to start. May I?"

When she nodded, I pulled the bundle of letters toward me and studied the tattered envelopes. They'd gotten damp at some point, and much of the ink had smeared and run. Most of the postmarks were indecipherable.

"They're from my grandmother, Esther Mitchell. Grandpa served in World War Two. He saved some of her letters."

"Are they still living?" I asked.

"Oh, no. Grandpa passed before I was born."

I looked up when she hesitated. The anger was back.

"Grandmother Mitchell and my mother were killed in a car crash. Drunk driver."

"I'm sorry. How awful to lose them both so senselessly."

Joline Eastman's eyes were dry. "Yes. Tragic. Especially since my mother was the drunk who was driving."

She wrote a check for our retainer, not flinching when I named the amount. Judging by her outfit and the Kate Spade bag she'd retrieved the checkbook from, I didn't think it would prove a burden. I tried not to give her too much hope, but she seemed to walk a little straighter when Erik opened the door for her on her way out. She'd left all the documents with me, and I'd given her a receipt for them.

Erik took the vacated chair in front of my desk, and I filled him in. He'd listen to the tape later and transcribe it for our files.

"Poor woman," he said softly.

"She's desperate," I said. "Without the bone marrow transplant, they've given her daughter only a couple of months."

He picked up the genealogical chart and studied it. "Lots of missing information — missing people — here. Does it have to be a direct ancestor?"

"I'm assuming the closer the blood relationship, the better the chances for a match."

"And you say Joline's mother and one grandmother are both dead, right?"

"And the Mitchell grandfather." I took the family tree from his hands and traced the lines with my fingers. "Joline's father skipped out when she was a teenager, but he's a viable candidate. If he's still alive. Maybe he has parents or living siblings. But the best bets are her two sisters, neither of whom she knows how to locate."

"That's strange. Did she say why?"

I shook my head. "Nothing helpful. The mother drank, so maybe it has something to do with that. At any rate, she hasn't spoken to" — I looked again at the chart — "Maeline and Tessa since before their mother was killed."

"It's always a problem trying to track down women when you don't have their married names."

"I know. But at least the given names are unusual. Betty and Sally would be a lot more difficult. I think they might be the best place to start."

"What about Kimmie's father?" Erik asked.

"She seriously didn't want to talk about him. Judging by her age when the girl was born, I'm guessing high school hormones gone wrong — a one-night stand or something like that. Joline didn't really tell me anything useful except that he's a dead end. The same with her mother's side of the family. Apparently they've all been ruled out."

Erik looked at the photo of the pretty teenager. "It's a damn shame."

I reached in the drawer for an oversized envelope and began placing the documents inside. "I know. But all we can do is work with the information she's willing to give us. And protect her privacy. She was pretty adamant about that, too." I paused and again studied the grainy photograph before handing it across to Erik.

"Do we know anyone who could work on this?" I pointed to the blurred printing visible on the building in the background. "Maybe bring this part into better focus? Most of these people are probably dead, but if we could pinpoint the location, it might give us a jumping-off point. Or maybe someone could raise that printing on the back, identify the photographer."


Excerpted from Covenant Hall by Kathryn R. Wall. Copyright © 2009 Kathryn R. Wall. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Kathryn R. Wall practiced accounting for twenty-five years in Ohio before retiring with her husband to Hilton Head, South Carolina.

Kathryn R. Wall is the author of the Bay Tanner mysteries, including Jericho Cay, Canaan's Gate and Covenant Hall. She lives in Hilton Head, South Carolina.

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Covenant Hall (Bay Tanner Series #9) 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Daruth60 More than 1 year ago
I am in awe of the writing of Kathryn Wall. She brings her characters to life and makes them a part of the reader's life, as well. I have read every book in the Bay Tanner series and can't wait for the next one to be published. I would recommend the author and books to everyone I know.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Good mystery. Would read other books by this author. It was also interesting as I new the areas the book refered too.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
These books are so addicting. I started with Covenant Hall--the last of the series then had to go back and read them from the beginning. Even out of order they are great. The subject is Southern community life attached to detective ingenuity. You love Bay Tanner and feel like you have a close girl friend that is always involved in something interesting. Kathryn Wall weaves the life style of the south into the story with effortless ease. Great stories!
palmettobooklover More than 1 year ago
With this ninth book of the Bay Tanner series, Ms. Wall has continued to keep these characters and story lines fresh. While I read many book series, this is the one I have enjoyed the most recently in the genre.
BlueDog807 More than 1 year ago
Kathryn R. Wall's latest has once again left me wanting more. This book moved me to tears, at the same time that it captivated me with the mystery.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
harstan More than 1 year ago
In Hilton Head, South Carolina private investigator Bay Tanner struggles with two difficult inquiries that are personal. Heart wrenching she needs to find rather quickly one of the long lost sisters of Joline Eastman, whose child Kimmie needs a bone marrow transplant from a suitable match donor before she dies from leukemia. Her other case is not life-threatening, but matters a great deal to her. She reads her dying father's will in which he mentions Julia Simpson, a half-sister of whom Bay she never knew she had.--------- Bay is stunned when Joline's friends and family refuse to cooperate in spite of the clock ticking on Kimmie's life. On the other hand she is not stunned that Julia's guardian has doubts and cocnerns about whether she should agree to the half-sister meeting. As her dad retired judge Talbot Simpson nears death, Bay also must decide whether she will actually marry her fiancé police sergeant Red Tanner, the brother of her deceased husband.------------ Both of Tanner's cases hit her gut with the fury of a Tsunami. Frantic from the start she personalizes saving Kimmie's life especially when no one who might have a clue cooperates, and obsesses over meeting Julia. Ironically though fans have waited for her decision whether to marry Red, in COVENANT HALL that feels minor and intrusive when compared to Kimmie and to a lesser degree Julia. Fans will relish Bay's latest cases as each gets personal.------- Harriet Klausner