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A woman with a history of domestic abuse is reported missing and her husband is pulled in for questioning. A relationship of too little too late with the local police prompts her sister to contact a private investigator and the team of Griff Cole and Britt Callahan take the case. When the woman is later found dead, her husband is charged as the likely killer. But with the discovery of a second body exhibiting the same lethal wounds and ties to a nearby women’s shelter, questions arise and what looked like a slam-dunk becomes anyone’s guess. The case goes to John Stark, head of the Criminal Investigations Department, a veteran cop and a close friend of Griff Cole. While bodies continue to surface, one person knows where the killer is. Father Francis, a priest at The Church of the Holy Child, listens to the killer’s disturbed account of each murder and wrestles with the vows that bind him to secrecy. When Cole’s ex-wife goes missing, the case takes an unexpected and personal turn and a connection to his past and the women’s shelter points to the killer.
|Publisher:||Intrigue Publishing LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.00(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.70(d)|
About the Author
Patricia Hale is a writer whose essays have appeared in literary magazines and the anthology, My Heart’s First Steps. She is a member of Sister’s in Crime, Mystery Writers of America, NH Writer’s Project and Maine Writer’s and Publisher’s Alliance. She lives in Fremont, New Hampshire.
Read an Excerpt
The Church of the Holy Child
By Patricia Hale
Intrigue Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2017 Patricia Hale
All rights reserved.
His breath was warm on my neck, his lips hot and dry. His tongue searched the delicate skin below my ear. Heart quickening, back arching, I rose to meet him.
The phone on the nightstand vibrated.
"Shit," Griff whispered, peeling away from me, our clammy skin reluctant to let go. He swung his feet over the edge of the bed and flashed me his bad-boy, half-smile. "Cole," he said into the phone.
At times like this, cell phones rate right alongside other necessary evils like cod liver oil and flu shots. I leaned against his back and caressed his stomach, damp dunes of sculpted muscle. Not bad for a guy north of forty. Griff still measured himself against the hotshots in the field. But in my book he had nothing to worry about; I'd take the stable, wise, worn-in model over a wet behind the ear, swagger every time.
He pried my fingers from his skin and walked toward the bathroom still grunting into the phone.
I slipped into my bathrobe and headed for the kitchen. I have my morning priorities and since the first one was interrupted by Griff's phone, coffee comes in a close second.
Twenty minutes later he joined me dressed in his usual attire, jeans, boots, tee shirt and sport jacket. Coming up behind me, he nuzzled my neck as I poured Breakfast Blend into a travel mug. Coffee splashed onto the counter top.
"Gotta run," he said taking the cup from my hand.
"Not sure yet. That was John. He said he could use a hand."
Griff flinched like I'd landed one to his gut.
"Sorry," I said. "Cheap shot."
"Woman found dead early this morning."
"When's he going to admit that he can't run the department with a pint of scotch sloshing around in his gut?"
"The job's all he's got left, makes it hard to let go."
"I'm just saying that he shouldn't be head of CID. Not now. I'm surprised Haggerty has put up with it this long."
"There's a lot going down at the precinct. Internal Affairs is having a field day after that meth bust. They've got so many guys on leave right now that a bottle of Dewar's in John's desk is the least of Haggerty's problems."
"I just don't want you to get sucked into CID."
He slipped his hands inside my robe and nuzzled my neck. "No chance of that. Nobody on the force feels like this."
I pushed him away halfheartedly.
I'll call you when I know what's going on."
The door closed behind him.
I sank onto a kitchen chair and flipped open the People magazine lying on the table. Griff and I had just finished an investigation for an heiress in the diamond industry whose sticky handed husband had resorted to blackmailing her brother as a way around their pre-nup. The ink on her twenty-thousand-dollar check made out to Cole & Co. was still wet. And being that I was the & Co. part of the check, I'd earned a leisurely morning.
The phone rang just as I was getting to the interview with Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell on the secrets of a long-term relationship. Caller ID told me it was Katie Nightingale, our go-to girl at the office. Katie kept track of everything from appointments to finances to take-out menus.
I lifted the phone and hit 'answer'.
"Britt?" Katie spoke before I had a chance, never a good sign.
"What's up?" I asked.
"What makes her missing? It hasn't even been twenty-four hours."
"The woman who called said her sister was leaving an abusive husband and was supposed to let her know when she was safe by ringing the phone once at seven-thirty. The call never came. Now she can't get hold of her. She said her sister carries your card in her wallet."
"What's her name?"
"The woman who called is Beth Jones. Her sister is Shirley Trudeau."
I nodded into the phone. I can't remember every woman I encounter, but Shirley's name rang a bell. Since giving up my position as a Family Law attorney with Hughes and Sandown, I'd been offering free legal aid for women who needed advice but couldn't afford it. Mostly I worked with wives trying to extricate themselves from abusive marriages. Given the reason I'd abandoned my law career, it was the least I could do. Shirley hadn't been living at the women's shelter, but she'd spent enough time there to have Sandra, the shelter's director, hook her up with me.
"And Beth thinks Shirley's husband found her?"
"That's what it sounded like once she'd calmed down enough to form actual words."
"I'm on my way."
I set the phone down, making a mental note to call Sandra. She'd upgraded from a caseworker in Connecticut to Director in Portland, Maine a few months ago. I'd stopped by her office to introduce myself when she started and left my business cards. Our paths didn't cross that often but we respected each other's work and always took a few minutes to chat. I knew she'd been on the swim team in college and that she could bench-press her weight. We were close in age and like-minded when it came to the politics of non-profits. No doubt Beth Jones had called her too.
After a shower and a quick clean-up of last night's wine glasses, Chinese takeout containers and clothes that we'd left strewn around the living room, I locked the apartment door and began my fifteen-minute trek to our office on Middle Street. I savored my walk through the Old Port, the name given to Portland, Maine's waterfront. The summer heat that a month ago had my shirt stuck tight against my back was a thing of the past and the snow and ice that would make walking an athletic event had not yet arrived. The cool, crisp air was like a shot of espresso. As long as I didn't let my mind wander to what nature had in store, I could enjoy the rush.
I hit "contacts" on my phone and scanned the names for Sandra's.
"Sandra, it's Britt," I said when she answered. "I wish this was a social call, but it's not. Shirley Trudeau is missing.
"I know, her sister called this morning. I'm on my way in now. How did you find out?"
"Her sister hired us to find her. "Was someone helping her leave?"
"She had a caseworker, but I wasn't in on the plan. I'll know more once I get to my office and talk to the person she was working with."
"Okay if I call you later?"
"I don't know how much I'll be able to tell you. You know the rules. If she was on her way ..."
I stopped mid-stride and lowered the phone from my ear. Sandra's voice slipped away. That dead body that Griff went to look at ... my gut said, Shirley Trudeau.
"Bless me Father."
"What are your sins?"
"I have no sins."
"Only God has no sins."
"It's God's sin that brings me here."
"And what sin has He committed?"
"Neglect, indifference, call it what you like. He's forgotten the children."
"The ones they leave behind. Now, it's up to me to save them."
"Save them from what?"
"Abandonment. Last night was number eight, but numbers don't matter. Those bitches will die until they've learned."
"Who will die?"
"Are you asking for forgiveness?"
"There's nothing to forgive. They get what they deserve."
"Only God can pass judgment."
"I said, God's not doing his job or weren't you listening? 'I'll be back for you,' they say. It's what my mother said to me, whispered it as she hovered over my bed in the middle of the night. I never saw her again. I used to feel sorry for her. But when she never came back I knew she deserved the beatings he gave her, every last one of them."
"Maybe there was a reason she didn't come back."
"Maybe she couldn't."
"She was selfish, like all the rest."
"Maybe she was afraid."
"You think she didn't know that I would take her place once she was gone? Women like her have to be punished."
"That's God's decision, not yours."
"God doesn't make good decisions."
"You have to trust that He knows what He's doing."
"Open your eyes, Father. He makes mistakes."
"You must ask for His guidance and His forgiveness."
"I asked for His help when I was seven years old and locked in a closet. It was dark. I was cold and hungry. My arm was broken and by the third day, my pants were full of filth. I asked for it again within these very walls. You know what I got? Nothing. The priest told me to go to the police. The problem was, my old man was the police. So, the priest told me to pray; a useless load of crap that turned out to be."
"We can't always understand His ways, but we have to believe that He knows best."
"He doesn't hear the children, Father. I'm their savior now."CHAPTER 2
Father Francis barely heard the words spoken by his next three parishioners. Inside his wooden confessional, he stared at the scarred inner walls while the sinners droned on about jealousy toward their neighbor or the backhand they'd delivered to a disobedient child. One had the nerve to lament over a stolen Milky Way bar. He'd given them each three Our Fathers and Three Hail Marys and hoped that would be enough to square things with the big guy. He wondered if any priest who'd sat inside this cubicle before him had encountered a confession like the one he'd heard today. And if so, what had he done?
He mulled over the question while waiting his usual twenty minutes to assure that the last of those confessing had left the church. He never wanted to see them in person after they'd unloaded their sins. The embarrassment would have been too uncomfortable, theirs not his. He'd been a priest at The Church of the Holy Child for the past ten years so their unique tones did not escape him.
He genuflected in front of the altar, nodded to the six-foot, porcelain Jesus affixed to an oak crucifix hanging from the ceiling and made his way across the red oriental rugs into the sacristy. Lifting his vestment over his head, the silk caught against his clammy palms. He dropped it into the chair in front of him and sat on top of it.
"Why me?" he whispered, hoping God might still have an ear in his direction even though the last of the sins had been absolved and the church was empty. "Why the hell, did I have to get that one?" He rested his elbows on his knees. Hands clasped together into one oversized fist and waited for an answer. None came. He stood and walked to the window. The churchyard lay bathed in red from the stained glass. He gazed over it, considering the killer's words or more accurately boast, maybe even taunt.
"God doesn't make good decisions the voice in the confessional had said. He makes mistakes."
Wasn't the person who'd confessed a mistake? And who was to blame God or humanity? Mankind has free will. But God has the ability to stop violence before it strikes. He pressed the heel of his hands against his eyes and shook his head angry with himself for daring to question God. He tried to focus on the voice instead of the words. It was not familiar to him. Not one of his routine Saturday sinners. It had been surprisingly soft. The tone in direct contrast with the message, Wiping moist palms against his denim-clad thighs, Father Francis turned and reached for a hanger. Wearing jeans under his cassock reminded him that he was just a working guy like the rest of them, no more than a go-between for the parishioners and God. It's what had led him to the priesthood in the first place, his desire for people to know that Jesus lived among them, not in some gilded cloud up in the sky. He believed that the church with all its ornate riches had placed God out of reach for the average Joe. Father Francis hoped to bring Him back to the people at the most basic level, to be an organic farmer of sorts, with God as his crop.
But nothing he'd heard today was average. And according to the Sacramental Seal there was nothing he could do about it. He hung his cassock inside the closet and pulled a t-shirt over his head. Imagine was written across the back, a picture of John Lennon on the front. He slipped his feet into a pair of black clogs and took long strides across the polished cherry floor.
On the second story of the rectory, in a twelve by twelve-foot room, Father Francis sank onto his four-poster bed holding a leather-bound book. Inside was the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
"Given the delicacy and greatness of this ministry and the respect due to persons, the Church declares that every priest who hears confessions is bound under very severe penalties to keep absolute secrecy regarding the sins that his penitents have confessed to him. He can make no use of knowledge that confession gives him about penitents' lives. This secret, which admits of no exceptions, is called the 'sacramental seal,' because what the penitent has made known to the priest remains 'sealed' by the sacrament."
He laid the book on his goose down comforter. On the soccer field across the street practice was just starting. Kids streamed onto the grass while their mothers stood in little clusters, chatting. He watched the women interact. Occasionally one of them would turn away from the group to glance out at her child, sending a quick wave, an encouraging smile or a clap of her hands when the ball they dribbled found its way into the net. Tonight, it could be one of them. Father Francis raised his eyes to the ceiling. "A test of my faith or my humanity? Which is it?"CHAPTER 3
I passed beneath the Cole & Co. sign, opened the outer door and started my climb to our third-floor walk-up. I've been after Griff to change the sign from Cole & Co. to Cole and Callahan. We've been a team now for three years and dating for six. But according to him, I'm still on probation ... professionally that is.
I relinquished my career as a Family Law lawyer almost four years ago after losing a case that culminated in the death of the woman I was representing, shot in the head an hour after returning home from court where her husband had been acquitted of abuse charges. He'd followed her home and killed her along with their four-year-old son. After six months of therapy and piecing together a fragile attempt at self-confidence, Griff suggested I take the PI exam and join his firm. Without him I'd probably still be in fetal position.
Katie was already perusing the day's agenda when I came through the door. Following me into my office, she set a latte on the corner of the desk.
"Shirley has a daughter, doesn't she?" I asked taking a sip of coffee and burning my lip.
Katie nodded. "Brooke. Shirley dropped her off yesterday with Beth. The plan was that she would send for her once she got resettled."
"I advised her to get in touch with the Domestic Violence Hotline and start planning an exit strategy. She didn't have a dime to take legal action. Her best shot was to disappear."
"Sounds like she took your advice."
My cell phone rang before I could digest the truckload of guilt Katie had just dumped in my lap.
"Got any time to finish what we started?"
I sank into my chair, coat still on and smiled. "Hey."
Katie left the room on queue.
"I wish that's why I was calling," Griff said, "but I'm standing in a field beside the Amtrak station looking at a dead woman with a one-way ticket to Miami and your card in her purse. Train was to leave at 5 a.m."
"That's the one. How'd you know?
"She was in the process of leaving her abusive husband. When her sister didn't get the signal that she was safely out of town, she called our office."
"Why didn't she call the police?"
"I haven't talked with her yet, but my guess would be two things, she knew Shirley had been in touch with me and the police require a twenty-four-hour waiting period before they'll look for a missing person. We start the meter whenever they want us to. How'd she die?"
"Blow to the head, actually, quite a few. Someone out walking their dog early this morning found her, her suitcase ten feet away. M.E. says she's been here a few hours."
"She was leaving on my advice."
"Haggerty wants to hear all about it."
Chief Haggerty was Sergeant Haggerty when I graduated law school. More than a few times I'd had cops on the stand and naively used the opportunity as a soapbox to highlight the lack of protection for women in the midst of domestic disputes. Suffice it to say I wasn't in high standing with Haggerty at the time. So, he wasn't thrilled when Griff and I started dating and even less ecstatic when we went into business together. He's been trying to tempt Griff with a position in CID, Portland's Criminal Investigation Department, for the past few years and chooses to blame me every time Griff declines. But I'm not the reason.
Excerpted from The Church of the Holy Child by Patricia Hale. Copyright © 2017 Patricia Hale. Excerpted by permission of Intrigue Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
To me, too many thrillers and suspense novels focus on plot and action to the detriment of character development. That's not to say they can't be good; some really are very entertaining and exciting. In The Church of the Holy Child, Patricia Hale does a nice job of rounding out her story by having some very appealing and/or interesting characters and still maintains a high level of tension. The title alone was enough to gain my attention and I was not disappointed in reading this. Britt and Griff hit just the right note with me in their working and personal relationships although their first names struck me as too...I don't know, fashionable or something, so I'm glad they're usually referred to as Callahan and Cole, respectively. This pair is clearly in love, not quite ready to fully commit but Cole is comfortable in their current status while Callahan is slightly more angsty. They each bring another element to their work because she is a former family lawyer and he used to be a cop. Because he has kept up his connections with the police force, they are frequently called upon to help out on certain cases. John, a cop friend trying to cope with some real baggage, is appealing in his neediness, and Father Francis is a priest who struggles mightily with the confessional secrecy when his devotion to his chosen path and his sense of justice bang up against each other. All four of these people must find their own way in this current morass of evil in which women are being slaughtered. Not every reader cares for multiple points of view or for being "in the head" of the killer but Ms. Hale's approach worked very well for me. Britt speaks in first person while Father Francis is presented in third person and the killer's infrequent, brief appearances are...well, you'll have to see for yourself because any explanation I give would be difficult to explain without being spoilery. The last thing that kept me reading is a plot that makes sense yet is full of tension. I did guess the killer's identity at a certain point but that didn't matter because the ride-along with the private eyes and the police is well worth the journey. I really am looking forward to the next Cole & Co. outing.
Private investigators Britt Callahan and Griff Cole get a call from a woman saying that her sister was going to leave her abusive husband and has not been heard of. When her body is discovered it seems like a cut and dry case with the husband as the killer. But other bodies are being discovered. The common denominator is they were all abused. Could all of these boyfriends and husbands be killing their wives? Individually, maybe, but when examined all together it is clear that a serial killer is stalking these women. As the police struggle to find the killer, you also meet Father Francis who is in confession with the serial killer as the killer walks him through every step of the murder. He is torn between keeping the confession secret per the dictations of the church or telling the police and stopping further murders. This is an amazing story. A woman is killed and the signs point to her abusive husband. Then another and another. Each look individually to the husband or boyfriend but when compared to each other are similar. All of the women a local women’s abuse shelter and it is looking like someone at the shelter might be tipping off the killer. But the case takes a turn, several of them, from there. Then there is Father Francis. He is torn because he wants to tell the police that the killer comes to confession and admits the details of the murders. But he can lose his title if he goes against the church who beliefs are that confessions are private and never to be shared. I felt for him as he was fighting to stop further killings yet be bound to the church. This is a great mystery/thriller. There are lots of twists and turns that will keep you guessing. I was completely thrown by the killer and was kept on my toes through the whole book. This is a great thriller/mystery thriller that will please any thriller lover. I received The Church of the Holy Child from Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for free. This has in no way influenced my opinion of this book.
Tagged as a mystery suspense story, this one lives up to the tags. A woman goes missing. When her body is discovered, her husband is the prime suspect. But then more bodies are found and the killer could be anybody. Private investigators, police and a priest all have their roles to play as the case becomes more urgent. Imagine being in the position Father Francis is in. A killer confesses their crimes, giving him all the gory details, and he is bound by the sanctity of the confessional, so he can’t tell the police about it. There are several key characters involved in this case and each has a strong voice. The writing is taut and compelling, drawing you in and keeping you focused as the suspense ramps up. And when you finally find out who the killer is, it’s one of those reveals that catches you by surprise. At just over 200 pages, this book reads fast and the author gets right to the meat of the mystery. Like mysteries with lots of suspense, well developed characters and a thrilling plot? I recommend you read this book.