When brassy South Carolina PI Bay Tanner uncovers the corpse of a newborn baby in her winning seventh outing (after 2006's Bishop's Reach), her brother-in-law, who happens to be a cop, tells her in no uncertain terms to stay out of it. But Bay is convinced that the strange charm the baby girl wore around her neck is the key to determining her identity, and the identity of her parents (who may be the baby's murderers). Meanwhile, a local real estate developer has hired Bay to find his wife. When the lovely blonde turns up dead, Bay must decide whether to help clear her client of suspicion. She believes he's innocent, but his drunkenly shacking up with another woman before his wife's body is cold doesn't help his case. If that's not enough, Bay's personal life heats up, as two men bid for her attentions. Wall once again delivers credible characters, a gripping plot and pitch-perfect local color. (May)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Sanctuary Hill (Bay Tanner Series #7)by Kathryn R. Wall
A freak summer storm has Bay Tanner, sometime private investigator, cooped up with her ailing father at his antebellum mansion near Hilton Head. Desperate for a distraction, Bay recovers a cooler bobbing along on the incoming tide. What she discovers inside will plunge her into a world of ancient magic where the power of the "root" has held sway since the days of the slave row. Suddenly, mysterious people and strange incidents, including a near-fatal accident, force her to realize that she may have unleashed something she can neither understand or escape.
Meanwhile, her investigation into the simple case of a runaway wife turns deadly. The police are eager to nail the wealthy, prominent husband for murder, but Bay's instincts tell her there's more to the story. Sheriff's Sergeant Red Tanner, her late husband's brother, warns her off the case, but Bay's never been good at taking orders. Soon she's working full-time to defend her client, who may not be as innocent as Bay would like to believe.
Time and again, every trail leads back to a mystical commune in the tangled backwoods of Beaufort County and to one of its leaders, a charismatic woman who believes in the real and malevolent power of the old ways. To find a killer, Bay must travel to the heart of this woman's world-and not everyone will escape the spell of Sanctuary Hill.
******Seventh book in the Bay Tanner series.
"Bay is a woman of character, always providing a rousing adventure while showing her softer side."
Read an Excerpt
Sanctuary HillA Bay Tanner Mystery
By Wall, Kathryn R.
St. Martin's MinotaurCopyright © 2007 Wall, Kathryn R.
All right reserved.
The storm blew up out over the ocean, spawned by a cold front roaring down from the north and fueled by the warm waters of the Gulf Stream. For the better part of three days it battered the South Carolina Lowcountry with a biting wind and relentless rain. Thousands of our annual summer visitors, desperate to salvage at least a few of their precious vacation days, had already packed up and escaped down I-95 to the more hospitable beaches of Florida.
“What’s so all-fired interestin’ out there?”
I turned at the sound of my father’s voice, thick and raspy from the cold that had begun the previous week with a few sniffles, then settled stubbornly in his throat.
“Stop it there before it travels,” Dr. Harley Coffin had told me just that morning, “or we’ll be battling pneumonia before you know it.”
I unwound my legs from my perch on the window seat and crossed the heart pine floor of the study-turned-bedroom to where retired judge Talbot Simpson lay stretched out. Since he’d been crippled by a series of small strokes, his world had come to be circumscribed by this house, his recliner, and his wheelchair. I tucked the heavy afghan more tightly around his shoulders.
“Can I get you something, Daddy? Tea?” I checked my watch. “It’s almost time for your next pill.”
“A shot of bourbon would do me a damn sight more good,” he grumbled.
“Throw another log on the fire, will you, Bay, darlin’?”
I’d had a couple of the fireplaces in the antebellum mansion going ever since the storm had taken up residence. The dampness of this strange summer cold snap had seeped into everyone’s bones. I dragged a hunk of oak from the basket and dropped it onto the glowing embers. When I looked back, my father’s eyelids had fluttered closed.
I took up my vigil again on the window seat. I used the sleeve of my old Northwestern sweatshirt to wipe away the mist my warm breath had formed on the glass and stared out over St. Helena Sound. Usually placid, it rolled now in the ceaseless wind. I spotted the white . . . something still bobbing along on the chop that slapped against the pilings of our small dock at the foot of the back lawn. Only the tips of the verdant marsh grass poked out from the gray-green water.
I raised the binoculars and homed in on the object.
Closer now than it had been all day, the box came into sharper focus. A Styrofoam cooler, the kind you can buy for a couple of bucks at every convenience store in Beaufort County, banged against the weathered stilts of the dock. I could see now that it had been bound shut by duct tape, the once shiny strips dulled to a soggy gray. For the first time, I noticed a few frayed strands of rope as well.
Somebody wanted to make certain the lid stayed on, I thought, adjusting the field glasses.
My father snorted. I watched him tug at the afghan with his one usable hand and settle back into restless sleep. I sighed and wished for the hundredth time in the past few days that I was home, stretched out on the sofa in the great room of my Hilton Head beach house, dozing as I listened to the storm rattle the palmettos and beat against the glass of the French doors. The morning’s Beaufort Gazette had reported that many of the roads on the island were flooded, some impassably so. I would have been marooned but content, with plenty of food in the pantry and my collection of old mysteries to keep me company.
Earlier that morning I’d phoned Erik Whiteside, my friend and partner in Simpson & Tanner, Inquiry Agents, and told him to stay home. We only manned the small office three days a week as it was, and I didn’t think anyone would be braving what was fast turning into the second Flood to engage our investigative services.
I looked up at the sound of slippered feet shuffling down the hall. Lavinia Smalls, a quilted robe buttoned up to just beneath her chin, stuck her head around the doorway. Her brown fingers motioned for me to follow before she turned and moved off toward the kitchen. I set the binoculars on the top of the cherry highboy, checked my father’s wheezy but even breathing, and tiptoed from the room.
I’d been obeying Lavinia pretty much without question for as long as I could remember. In the sacred halls of Presqu’isle, with its priceless antiques and Baynard-Tattnall family heirlooms, the tall, imposing black woman had been the rock of my childhood, my strong defender against the erratic behavior of my late mother. Now my father’s housekeeper and tender companion, she still ruled with a firm hand.
“What are you doing out of bed?” I asked as I followed her into the kitchen.
Within a day of my father’s falling ill, Lavinia had succumbed to the same pounding headache and raw throat. I knew she had to be nearly at death’s door to send out an SOS for me to trek the thirty miles to St. Helena to help her tend to Daddy.
“I’m doin’ lots better,” she said over her shoulder, her arthritic hands busy with setting the tea things out on a woven sweetgrass tray. She reached into the cupboard and took down a brown prescription bottle. “Soon as I get this medicine into your father, I’m gonna get myself dressed.”
“There’s no need,” I said, pulling out a chair and seating myself at the weathered oak table. “I can handle it.”
Lavinia’s smile lit her wrinkled face. “I know that, child. Time you took yourself off home, that’s all.”
I tried not to take offense. While no one had ever accused me of being particularly nurturing, I thought I’d done a pretty good job of dealing with my father’s irascible temper while fetching and carrying for two elderly sick people.
“Now don’t go gettin’ your back up,” she said, reading my mind as she’d been doing for forty years. “You know I appreciate all you’ve done these past days.” She picked up the whistling kettle from the stove and filled the brown earthenware teapot. Her smile broadened as she turned back to me. “You even managed to whip up some passable meals.”
“I’m overwhelmed by your praise,” I mumbled, and she laughed.
“Come on now, honey, you know I’m just playin’ with you.”
I rose and wandered over to peer out the rain-streaked window over the sink. The cooler still bobbed beneath the dock pilings, one corner of it resting on a thin strip of marshy ground.
“Will you join us for tea?”
I glanced over my shoulder as Lavinia hefted the tray from the counter.
“Let me get that.”
“No need. You comin’?”
The decision seemed to make itself. “No, thanks. I’m going outside for a little while.”
“What on God’s green earth for?” The tight gray curls bounced as she shook her head. “You want to be the next one down with this summer cold? I don’t have the strength to be nursin’ the both of you, running up and down stairs all day long.”
“Yup, you’re definitely feeling better,” I replied with a grin. “Go on, take that in to Daddy. I’ll bundle up.”
“See that you do.” I could hear her mumbling—something about foolishness—all the way down the hall.
I rummaged in the closet behind the stairs and finally shrugged into one of my father’s old hunting jackets, waterproof and still smelling faintly of the bluetick hounds, Hootie and Beulah. The dogs—and my father’s ability to trek long miles with them through the marshes and woods of his beloved islands—had been dead a long time. On the back verandah I found a pair of mud-caked rubber boots Lavinia used for gardening and stuffed the legs of my jeans into them. I unfurled a battered black umbrella and stepped out into the storm.
I moved carefully down the steps between the waterfalls cascading off the hipped roof and squished my way toward the rear of the property. The abandoned osprey nest still hung high in the branches of the dead sycamore, its white trunk looking as if someone had stripped and bleached it. One of its heavy lower limbs had cracked off in the storm, and bits of it lay scattered across the edge of the marsh.
The dank odor of the pluff mud exposed by the ebbing tide mingled with the sweeter smell of wet grass as I waded out into the shallow water. The cooler had been canted onto one side just beyond the reach of my outstretched arm. I knew from the days of my tomboy childhood that I couldn’t venture too far out in the soupy mud without the risk of getting stuck there until the tide flowed in again.
Protected somewhat by the overhanging branches of one of the live oaks, I closed the umbrella. Wrapping one arm around the slimy wood of the piling, I reversed my grip and tried to snag the remaining strand of rope with the crook of the handle. It was too thick, and I stepped back to consider my next move.
The muted rumbling of motors and faint whoops of glee brought my head up. Not far out on the Sound, two crazy teenaged boys, stripped to the waist, roared out of the mists on jet skis. The noise receded as the wake kicked up by their passing rocked the Styrofoam box.
“Come on, baby,” I coaxed, my arms open and extended. “Come to mama.”
The third wave edged it a few inches closer, and I lunged, my cold fingers finding purchase on the rope. I pulled with everything I had, and the sea suddenly gave it up, sending me flying backwards to land ingloriously in the muck. But my arms cradled the treasure against my chest, sticky green seaweed now hopelessly smeared all over my father’s jacket.
The banging of the screen door made me turn.
Lavinia stood on the verandah, her arms wrapped in the sleeves of a heavy sweater. “Lydia Baynard Simpson Tanner! What in God’s name are you doin’?”
I struggled to my feet. “I got it!” I crowed.
“You get your sorry self inside the house this instant, do you hear me, girl? Now!”
I rescued the umbrella from being carried out to sea and stumbled back onto firmer ground. By the time I marched up the steps, my hair hung in soggy strands against my face, and my feet sloshed in the combination of mud and water that filled the snug-fitting boots. I set the cooler on the floor of the verandah and peeled off my sodden coat. I dumped the contents of the boots over the railing and grinned at Lavinia.
“I’ve been watching this thing float out there for most of the day. It was driving me crazy.”
“And that justifies you traipsing around like some fugitive from the lunatic asylum? I promise you, girl, if you end up hacking and sneezing your brains out, you’ll get no sympathy from me.”
“Fair enough,” I said, hefting the cooler and turning toward the door.
Lavinia held up a hand. “Don’t even think about it.”
I shrugged and set the Styrofoam box down on the bench she used for potting plants. “Will you at least bring me something sharp to cut this tape?”
Grumbling, Lavinia moved back inside, returning a moment later with a butcher knife. Silently she watched as I ripped through the rope and sawed at the gluey strips of duct tape. When I had everything peeled away, I stepped back.
“You want to do the honors?”
“Don’t be ridiculous! I swear you’re actin’ just like you did when you were twelve. Give you the choice of sitting down in a pretty dress with your mama’s friends or traipsing off into the woods with your father, I always knew which one you’d choose.” She sighed. “Well, go ahead. Open the thing up. But I’m telling you now, when it turns out to be full of rotten fish guts, you got about two seconds to get it off my porch.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I pushed back my sleeves like a magician about to reveal his most amazing illusion and lifted the fragile lid.
The contents had been perfectly preserved, maybe by the cold water at the bottom of the Sound. I had no doubt the rope had once secured a weight of some kind meant to keep the box from floating to the surface. Whoever had assembled this obscene package hadn’t counted on the worst storm in twenty years shaking it loose.
I barely registered Lavinia’s gasp of horror as I turned back the corner of the yellow blanket and stared into the puckered face of the dead infant.
Copyright © 2007 by Kathryn R. Wall. All rights reserved.
Excerpted from Sanctuary Hill by Wall, Kathryn R. Copyright © 2007 by Wall, Kathryn R.. Excerpted by permission.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
An unexpected storm socks the South Carolina Lowcountry coast stranding private investigator Bay Tanner at the home of her ailing father. Stepping outside the luxurious antebellum mansion, Bay grabs a floating cooler. When she opens it expecting inside food or drink, she is stunned to find the corpse of a newborn. --- She informs Sheriff¿s sergeant Redmond ¿Red¿ Tanner, who also happens to be the brother of Bay¿s deceased husband her in-law tells her not to investigate as he knows how her curiosity keeps the cat in trouble. She ignores his warning rant because she believes the key to identifying the mother and perhaps the killer is the strange charm the victim had around her neck. At about the same time realtor Dumars hires Bay to look for his missing wife. When the spouse is found dead her client is the prime suspect. Though she thinks he is innocent, she detests what she believes is his disrespect for the dead as he sleeps with another woman while his wife lies in the morgue. She considers dropping him as a client rationalizing that her contractual consideration was achieved when the corpse was found. --- The realistic portrayals of the characters especially Bay and Red make for a strong entertaining regional mystery. Bay has several dilemmas to consider making her seem human as she suddenly has two men wanting her and a moral quandary re Dumars. Fans of the series will appreciate this superb whodunit that brings Beaufort County alive through a fully developed cast involved in two homicides. --- Harriet Klausner