Suffragette and journalist Charlotte Brody is bracing herself for her first winter in the frontier town of Cordova in the Alaska Territory. But the chilling murder of a local store owner is what really makes her blood run cold. . .
After three months in Cordova, Charlotte is getting accustomed to frontier life. She is filing articles for the local paper--including a provocative editorial against Prohibition--and enjoying a reunion with her brother Michael, the town doctor and coroner. Michael's services are soon called upon when a fire claims the life of hardware store owner Lyle Fiske. A frontier firebug is suspected of arson, but when Michael determines Fiske was stabbed before his store was set ablaze, the town of Cordova has another murder to solve.
Her journalist's curiosity whetted, Charlotte begins to sort through the smoldering ruins of Lyle Fiske's life, only to discover any number of people who might have wanted him dead. As the days grow shorter, Charlotte's investigation turns increasingly complex. She may be distant from the trappings of civilization, but untangling the motives for murder will require plumbing the very depths of Charlotte's investigative acumen. . .
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Read an Excerpt
By Cathy Pegau
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 Cathy Pegau
All rights reserved.
How can we, as Americans, claim to support individual freedoms while advocating for such a restrictive amendment? Not to say overindulging isn't an issue, but even with current prohibition laws in some States and here in the Alaska Territory we have seen a rise in the illegal production and sale of alcohol and associated criminal behavior. There has also been an increase in wood alcohol deaths as the common man attempts to slake his thirst with his own poisonous concoctions. Is this the price we're willing to pay in what can only be a futile attempt at national sobriety?
Charlotte Brody typed the final lines of her editorial for the next day's edition of the Cordova Daily Times. She grinned as she swiped an errant strand of hair out of her eyes. "That'll give the ladies of the local Women's Temperance League something to grouse about."
She just hoped Andrew Toliver, the Times's owner and publisher, liked it. Since Charlotte started working for him, Toliver had relinquished the roles of chief reporter and typesetter to her and was able to concentrate on his neglected executive duties, as well as edit and run the printing press itself. He was neutral on most major topics, at least as far as what he put in the paper, and it delighted him to have the town talking about what they found within its pages. This would get some tongues wagging, for better or worse.
With the twist of one of the Linotype's several levers, Charlotte sent the sequence of steel mats to the molding mechanism. The machine clattered and whirred, the small motor by her left knee buzzing. In a minute or so, the new lead slug would be molded, dropped into place, and cool enough to handle.
How would Cordovans react to her take on National Prohibition? A fairly even split, she reckoned. No matter what side they supported, she hoped it sold papers. Then again, as the only news source in a town full of folks who enjoyed a good debate, she was more than certain it would.
But that's not why she wrote the article. Increasing sales, while financially beneficial, wasn't her goal as a journalist. Seeking justice, informing the public, and getting them to talk about issues was what she loved about her calling.
Despite President Wilson's attempts to veto it — though not for the reasons she espoused — the Eighteenth Amendment would take effect in less than two months. Perhaps if enough people considered how ridiculous it was, and called for its repeal, this waste of time and energy would be a mere footnote in future history books.
Charlotte slid the stool away from the massive Linotype's keyboard and bent down to flick off the electric motor that ran the gears and chains of the machine. The buzz in her ears subsided. After three months as Mr. Toliver's assistant, she hardly noticed the tang of hot lead from the crucible any more, but silencing the motor was always a relief. She felt her head clear, like cobwebs swept from rafters.
Now, the Nineteenth Amendment, that was a change that truly mattered and would have positive lasting effects. Nearly twenty states had ratified the voting amendment so far, and it looked like more were poised to join in. All the marching, protesting, and arrests of good women and men had made for a long, often painful journey, but it was worth it. Charlotte would never forget the stories of sacrifice and bravery that had paved the way, and couldn't wait to celebrate national suffrage someday soon.
Would she still be in Alaska when that happened? Hard to say. Charlotte's original plan had been to stay over the winter, then she pushed her unofficial scheduled departure back to later in spring. Perhaps she'd spend the summer in the Great Land before returning to New York. She was looking forward to seeing the territory in more pleasant weather. Why not experience all the seasons while she had the chance?
The late November wind rattled a loose panel of the metal roof of the Times office, reminding her pleasant weather was a long way away. It was probably snowing again.
Anxious to finish and get home before the streets were too messy, Charlotte picked up the cooled lead slugs and aligned them in the frame on the proofing table. Seeing no obvious defects in the dull gray reliefs, she rolled ink onto the raised letters, then laid a fresh piece of newspaper over the frame. She used a second, clean roller to create a proof and lifted it carefully. With the eye of an editor, she searched for errors that would require retyping a corrected slug.
Satisfied, Charlotte put the rollers and ink away. Mr. Toliver would be in soon to run the large printing press across the room. First, they'd go over the next day's issue, making changes as necessary, then she'd go home while he stayed overnight to mind the machinery. He preferred working at night, he'd said when he hired her, listening to the rhythm of the press as he perused articles or created special advertisement pages.
The shared tasks suited Charlotte. She was able to write local stories, gather the social notices, tidbits, and comings and goings endemic to a small town paper during the day, and still work on her serialized account of women in Alaska for The Modern Woman Review in the evenings. What made for news in a remote Alaska town wasn't usually as exciting as back in New York, but you learned who threw the most popular dinner parties.
She closed the door of the press room behind her and entered the main office. It was much cooler away from the Linotype, despite the coal stove in the corner. Quieter too, with only the ticktock of the cuckoo clock to challenge the periodic howl of the wind. She checked the time as she sat at Toliver's messy desk. After eight already? He should be here soon.
Charlotte slid a piece of scratch paper under the circle of light made by the desk lamp and jotted a note about the thunking she'd heard earlier within the Linotype. Toliver had instilled in her the need to keep the intricate machine in tip-top shape, as it was their bread and butter.
Setting the note where he'd see it, or at least eventually find it, Charlotte was drawn to an article that had come in over the Associated Press Teletype on coal miners threatening to strike down in the States. Though she'd seen the articles hours ago, she often only scanned pieces as she organized them for printing.
Goodness, what sort of things are happening to those poor people? She started to read, frowning at their plight. A triple knock on the front door jerked Charlotte's eyes open. She'd meant only to rest them for a moment. Late nights and early mornings were starting to catch up with her.
All she could see through the frosted glass was a vague, dark figure. The streetlight must have gone out again. Who would be out on a night such as this? Toliver wouldn't have knocked, as he had his own key.
"Michael or James," she answered herself as she rose, her voice rough in her own ears. Her brother or the deputy marshal occasionally checked in on her at the office. Chances were good it was one of them.
Back in New York, she would have ignored a nighttime visitor. Or taken one of Michael's old baseball bats with her. Here, she was fairly confident the person outside wasn't going to hurt her. Besides, she'd left the bat at her parents' house.
She opened the door. A gust of cold, wet wind blew in, making her shiver.
Deputy Marshal James Eddington stood at the threshold, melting slush dripping off the brim of his hat. "You shouldn't be opening the door without asking who it is."
"Are you saying you're unable to keep the streets of Cordova safe enough for a woman to be at her own place of employment without worry?" Charlotte smiled as she said it, letting him know she was just teasing. James was a very good deputy, committed to his job, and most everyone in town knew he and Marshal Blaine weren't to be trifled with when it came to breaking the laws of the territory.
James's black eyebrows met in a scowl, but there was a glimmer of amusement in his eyes. "Common sense should come into play, even here. There are some unsavory elements about."
She'd certainly learned that in her three months in town.
"I'll be more careful from now on," she promised. "Come in and warm up. I'm almost done."
James slipped in when Charlotte stepped aside. She closed the door after him. He swept his hat from his head, shook off the excess water carefully to avoid wetting her, and hung it on a peg screwed into the wall alongside her own hat and coat.
"More snow since early evening. Cold and slick out there," he said as he unbuttoned his coat. "Wanted to make sure you get home okay."
Though warmed by his concern, Charlotte rubbed her chilled, bare arms, her sleeves held up by an old pair of garters so they wouldn't get dirtied by the Linotype. "That's very kind of you. Sit for a minute while I finish a few things. Mr. Toliver should be here soon. Would you like some tea? I think the water's still hot."
"Toliver doesn't have anything stronger stashed in his desk?" James asked with a sly smile.
He did, but friend or not, Charlotte wasn't about to admit it to a deputy who enforced Alaska's dry laws. "Just tea."
"Then tea'd be great, thanks." He sat on the straight-back chair on the other side of the desk while she went to the stove to check the kettle. Still hot enough to make a decent cup.
Charlotte prepared their tea and brought the cups to the desk. She sat in Toliver's padded chair, suddenly at a loss for what to say to James. They'd been friendly enough since she'd arrived in Cordova in August, and he was easy to talk to. They'd even gone to dinner, and another time a show at the Empress Theater with her brother and her friend Brigit. And they'd shared a kiss. That was as far as she'd allowed herself to take their relationship in a physical sense. Charlotte was pleased that they engaged in enjoyable conversations on all manner of topics most of the time they were together.
So why was she unable to come up with small talk now, as they sat in a dimly lit office while the wind blew outside?
"Anything exciting in tomorrow's paper?" He watched her over the rim of the cup as he sipped.
Relieved to break the silence and have something to focus upon, Charlotte passed him the originals of the articles she'd transcribed. "Mostly the usual, though there are a few that should get some attention."
How would Deputy Eddington and Marshal Blaine take her editorial? They already knew her personal stance on Prohibition, and Blaine had more or less agreed with her that enforcement was difficult. Putting it in print for all of Cordova to see was another matter.
He glanced through the drafts, stopping at a page and frowning. "This damn arsonist is driving us crazy."
"At least there hasn't been any serious damage or injury." Charlotte had written three pieces about fires set over the last month. Abandoned sheds and piles of brush seemed to be the arsonist's main source of entertainment.
"Not so far," James said, "but this is the third year he's done it. Sets a few fires, then stops. I'd rather not have this be an annual event."
"How unusual. Are you sure it's the same person?" There was no evidence pointing to anyone or any particular pattern other than the timing.
"Not really, but in a way, I hope so." He shook his head slowly. "We don't need a copycat —"
A muffled boom from somewhere not too distant cut him off, followed by three more smaller ones in quick succession. The explosions weren't loud, more like when she'd stood on the street in New York City for a parade and heard the bands' bass drums while they were still a couple of blocks away.
James set his teacup down quickly, sloshing liquid onto the pages on the desk, and bolted from his seat. Charlotte followed him. Throwing open the door, he stood on the walk looking up and down Main Street. His eyes widened as he faced west, toward the canneries.
"It looks like Fiske's. Call the firehouse," he said, already running in that direction.
Charlotte took a quick look. Though she didn't see flames, there was an unnatural glow coming from two streets away. She about-faced, dashed back to the desk, and snatched up the candlestick phone. Placing the earpiece against her ear, she flicked the bracket several times.
After a few long moments, a drowsy voice answered. "Operator."
"There's been an explosion and a fire," Charlotte said. "At Fiske's Hardware."
"I'll call it in," the operator replied, perkier now. "Anyone hurt?"
"I don't know. Deputy Eddington went down there. Hurry."
Charlotte hung up before the operator. She grabbed her notepad and a pencil from the desk and practically broke her neck hopping from one foot to the other as she pulled off her shoes. Thank goodness single buckles and slip-ons had replaced high-laced styles, but they weren't good in snow. She hurried to the door, shoved her feet into her heavy boots, on top of her wool socks stuffed inside, and yanked her hat and coat off their pegs.
Struggling to get her coat on while she slipped and slid in the slush, Charlotte made her way to the end of the street. By the time she turned toward Fiske's, fire licked at the side window of the building. Luckily, there was some distance between the hardware store and its nearest neighbor. The idea of a block-long inferno scared the hell out of her.
He was nowhere in sight. The door was open and black smoke poured out, dimming the streetlight on the far corner. The acrid stench of burning chemicals made Charlotte's eyes water. Her heart raced and her palms were clammy, despite the cold. She stepped back, rubbing the thin scar beneath her left eye. Not long ago, she'd been caught in a burning room, and the memory was too fresh to allow her to get any closer.
"James!" She called again, praying he hadn't gone inside.
The smoke was getting thicker, the flames growing larger and louder. The upper floor seemed untouched, for the moment, but that wouldn't last long.
Charlotte heard the bell clanging from the firehouse near the harbor. If any of the volunteers had spent the night there, they would be on the scene soon. But would it be soon enough?
She reached into her pocket for the notebook and pencil. Taking notes and focusing on the facts for the article she'd write kept her worry for James at bay, for the moment.
Several people joined her on the corner, some with coats pulled on over nightclothes.
"Anyone call the fire department?"
"I heard the bells going."
"What the hell happened? Anyone inside?"
Charlotte glanced up at the building as the flames snapped and flashed through the windows. God, she hoped the building had been empty. A shudder ran through her. She shoved her notebook into her pocket, buttoned her coat, and crossed her arms against the cold. Thank goodness she'd worn an old pair of long johns under her skirt.
By the time the sound of yelling and the clang of the fire engine bell came up the road, the fire had grown and smoke billowed out of the upper floor window. The two-horse-drawn pump cart with six men hanging on was followed by the three-horse tank cart. The firemen leaped off their carts before they came to a complete stop, boots squishing in the icy mud. Two men connected the tank hose to the pump. Others connected the fire hose to the other end of the pump and unrolled the rubberized canvas toward Fiske's.
Three men donned hard leather masks that covered their heads, the eyepieces giving them an insect-like appearance. Hopefully the air canisters attached to the back of the mask would sustain them long enough to extinguish the flames. When their equipment was secure, they hurried to the hose.
"Ready!" came the muffled cry of the man at the front as he waved an arm. He pointed the nozzle toward the open door. Four men operated the pump mechanism, two to a side. After a few pumps, water shot out of the nozzle. The man in the front slowly walked forward, the others behind keeping step.
James came around from the back of the building, and Charlotte breathed a sigh of relief. He strode directly to Chief Parker, who wore a black, hardened leather helmet with a metal crest on the front, and began talking and gesturing. Charlotte couldn't hear what they were saying over the rush of water, the roar of flames, and the chatter of the men near her.
"Charlotte, are you all right?"
She turned toward her brother. Like some of the other men, Michael wore his mackinaw over a stripped pajama shirt and hastily donned trousers.
"I'm fine. Did you get a call? Is someone hurt?" Charlotte hadn't seen anyone come out of Fiske's with an injury. Maybe he'd been contacted as a precaution.
"No, I heard the commotion. But I have my bag, just in case." He held up his leather satchel, then turned his gaze to the building. "I pray I won't need it."
James nodded at something the chief said, then walked over to them. Melted snow plastered his hair to his head, but he didn't seem to be feeling the effects of the wet or cold. "Doc," he said, greeting Michael. "Shouldn't have been anyone inside, but if you'll stick around to make sure the firemen are okay, I'd be obliged."
Excerpted from Borrowing Death by Cathy Pegau. Copyright © 2016 Cathy Pegau. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I enjoyed the second book in this series. I like that we get to see more of all the characters in the book, not just Charlotte. However, on more than one occasion I did feel that Charlotte may have crossed the line in gathering her information. Basically, she's breaking the law - and quite blatantly, too. But I still enjoyed the setting and the story, and will definitely read the third book when it is released.
4 Stars I like this series. Charlotte Brody is a smart, strong character.and follows her own path. Though I find that I am more like the Chrurch ladies than her on issues. Charlotte has come to Cordova in Alaska Territory to get away from home and visit her brother. She writes for local newspaper and articles she sends back to the States. She is fighting for ending prohibition, right to abortion and women right to vote. She likes the deputy but has only flirted with him and shared some kisses. Charlotte wants to figure out who killed a local businessman. Along the way she gets into some trouble. This is set in Territory of Alaska. It is a good cozy mystery. Lots of interesting facts about life during that time. Interesting ending and want to see how that will work out in the future.. I look forward to reading more from Cathy Pegau in the future. I was given this ARC to read for free from NetGalley and Kensington Books. I agreed to give a honest review of Borrowing Death.
Borrowing Death by Cathy Pegau is the second book in A Charlotte Brody Mystery novel series. Charlotte Brody is a reporter in Cordova, Alaska working at the Cordova Daily Times (how can they have enough news for a daily paper). She also does freelance articles for The Modern Woman Review in New York. Charlotte is experiencing her first winter in Alaska, and it is extremely cold. A fire breaks out at Fiske’s store, and Charlotte rushes over to get the story. When the fire is put out they find the body of Lyle Fiske (store owner). After he is examined by Dr. Michael Brody (Charlotte’s brother as well as the local doctor and coroner), it is determined that Lyle was stabbed. The fire was set to cover the crime (the arsonist botched the job). Charlotte is quick to insert herself into the investigation. Deputy Marshall James Eddington is dating Charlotte, and he does not want Charlotte sticking her nose into the investigation. But Charlotte is stubborn, tenacious, and curious. She runs around town talking to various people (as well as some late night snooping) to find the culprit. Charlotte is also stirring up trouble with her editorial on prohibition (she is against it). The local temperance society ladies are not happy with her point-of-view. Trouble is brewing for Charlotte, and she had better be careful or she will get burned! Borrowing Death was just okay. Charlotte has her strengths and her weaknesses. I like the she is independent and has her own voice (point-of-view). But Charlotte reminds me of a dog with a bone when she is in pursuit of information. I found some information (about Charlotte’s past boyfriend and personal issues) repeated a few times which is unnecessary. Charlotte’s personal life seemed to dominate Borrowing Death (her past one with Richard and her current romance with James). I liked the mystery (it had depth), though it was easy to figure out the killer. The murder happened too early in the book and the pace of the novel was extremely slow. I give Borrowing Death 3 out of 5 stars. I was hoping that this book would be better than the first one in the series. I was disappointed (yet again). I will not be continuing with the series. This book just did not hold my interest (I was bored). I received a complimentary copy of Borrowing Death from NetGalley in exchange for an honest evaluation of the novel. The opinions and comments expressed are strictly my own.