"Lots of twists and turns make this novel fun to read. An enjoyable series with delightful characters." - Librarian, Penn State University
"Johnson paints characters with a folksy charm that makes them feel like family...Color me a fan!" - Diane Vallere, Author of the Material Witness, Style & Error, and Madison Night Mysteries
"Rory is definitely a quirky character; she has the ability to draw the readers in so that they want to follow her through her adventures." - Suspense Magazine
"The plot thickens and becomes more entangled as Rory pursues all and any possible angles [to catch the killer]. Many intriguing complications arise during this search for the truth. An easy to read mystery with an amateur female sleuth who is a very likeable and believable character." - LibraryThing
"Rory finds herself needing to uncover the truth of a friend's shocking death as everyone else seems satisfied with the easy answer. She's willing to risk friendships, and her own life, to chip away to reach the unvarnished truth. Paint the Town Dead is an engaging mystery set amidst a painting convention and showcases the complexity of relationships when a tragedy strikes." - Christina Freeburn, Author of Framed to Death
The Ocean Painting Society invites you to join the painting wave...
It's June in the quiet Los Angeles County city of Vista Beach, the place computer programmer and tole-painting enthusiast Aurora (Rory) Anderson calls home. Decorative painters are flocking to the newly built Akaw hotel to attend the Ocean Painting Society's inaugural convention.
During the weeklong event, Rory plans on shopping the trade show floor, working in her mother's booth, taking classes and connecting with other decorative painting fans. She doesn't expect to witness her childhood friend collapse in class and die. When the police find no evidence of foul play, Rory embarks on her own investigation. Can she brush aside the lies to uncover the truth and bring the killer to justice?
Related subjects include: cozy mysteries, women sleuths, murder mystery series, whodunit mysteries (whodunnit), amateur sleuth books, book club recommendations, craft and hobby mysteries.
Books in the Aurora Anderson Mystery Series:
• FATAL BRUSHSTROKE (#1)
• PAINT THE TOWN DEAD (#2)
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Series Collection, if you like one, you'll probably like them all...
Sybil Johnson's love affair with reading began in kindergarten with "The Three Little Pigs." Visits to the library introduced her to Encyclopedia Brown, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle and a host of other characters. Fast forward to college where she continued reading while studying Computer Science. After a rewarding career in the computer industry, Sybil decided to try her hand at writing mysteries. Her short fiction has appeared in Mysterical-E and Spinetingler Magazine, among others. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, she now lives in Southern California where she enjoys tole painting, studying ancient languages and spending time with friends and family.
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|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.55(d)|
Read an Excerpt
The rock crashed through the window, barely missing Rory Anderson's head, and slammed into the bookcase behind her. Seconds later, she heard the revving of an engine followed by the squeal of tires as a car sped away.
Rory's heart leapt into her throat. She gaped at the jagged hole in the window in front of her desk and swiveled her chair around to look behind her, where a dozen paperbacks had tumbled out of the bookcase onto the hardwood floor. Nestled among them lay the fist-sized rock that had come close to knocking her out.
Her heart pounding, Rory took several calming breaths and forced herself to sit as still as possible while she listened for suspicious sounds outside. No unusual noises reached her ears. The residents of Seagull Lane appeared to be tucked in for the night, enjoying a peaceful Sunday evening before the workweek started. Once her breathing returned to normal, she cautiously got up from her chair, leaned over her desk, and peered through the damaged window into the darkness beyond. Lights from neighboring houses illuminated enough of her street that she could discern the shapes of cars and trees. A cat crept out of the shadows and crossed her front lawn like a tiger on the prowl. She didn't want to know what the orange tabby was stalking.
Rory's gaze swept her work area from the window past the computer on her desk to the pile of books on the floor. She crossed the room, and tucking her long brown hair behind her ears, bent down to pick up the rock. Wrapped around it was a note. The words on the scrap of pink paper chilled her to the bone: This is only the beginning. Prepare to pay for your actions. Down with the Akaw!
Fright turned to puzzlement as the message finally sunk in. Dozens of people had been inside the newly built hotel in the two weeks since it opened. She doubted all of them had been treated to a rock through their window. She had written software for the Akaw, but that didn't seem a good enough reason to target her.
Rory carefully placed the rock and note on the desk and wiped off her hands on her jeans. After turning on every light she could find, she took her cell phone out of its charger and called the Vista Beach police department to report the incident. Time dragged on as she waited for a patrol car to arrive. She itched to clean up the mess, but knew the police would want to see an undisturbed scene so, instead, she took photos of the damage for her insurance company.
When ten minutes passed and the normally responsive police were nowhere in sight, she wondered if there'd been a sudden explosion of crime in Vista Beach. Perhaps the influx of visitors common in June was creating more problems than usual for the quiet Los Angeles County beach community.
Rory paced back and forth in the great room that spanned the front of her house, walking from the work area at one end to the living room at the other, periodically glancing outside. She was passing the front door for what must have been the tenth time when a cacophony of yowls and hisses rent the night air. Her stockinged feet slid on the polished hardwood, and she braced herself against a nearby wall to steady herself. As soon as she regained her balance, she poked her head out the door and yelled at the cats to be quiet. Once the warring felines slunk away, she continued her pacing, getting angrier and angrier every time she passed the damaged window, obsessing over the violation of her home and the police department's lack of response. By the time a patrol car pulled into her driveway forty-five minutes later, she was ready to explode.
Light spilled out onto the porch when Rory wrenched the front door open. She suppressed her anger as she watched the uniformed officer traverse the walkway, the beam of his flashlight illuminating the path before him. By the time he stepped onto the porch, she was calm enough to have a civil conversation.
"You called about some vandalism, ma'am?" Officer Yamada said, after introducing himself and apologizing for the delay.
Rory invited the officer inside and pointed to the broken window. He examined the area, then headed outside to look around.
When he returned, she handed over the note for his inspection. "This came through the window wrapped around a rock."
His expression neutral, he stared at the note, not even raising an eyebrow as he read the words on the paper.
"You don't seem very surprised," she said.
"This isn't new to me. I saw an identical note earlier tonight at the home of the chairman of the city council."
"So I wasn't the only one targeted." Rory didn't know whether to find the news comforting or not. "How many others were there?"
"Besides the chairman, two other council members' houses were egged. Those are just the calls I took personally."
No wonder he'd taken so long to get here, Rory thought. "How long has this been going on? The newspaper didn't say anything about vandalism. The only articles I saw were on people complaining about the hotel about, what was it ...?" She screwed up her face in concentration. "Something about homeowners near the Akaw claiming construction of the underground parking garage damaged their houses."
"It's been the talk of the department lately. Couldn't tell you if it's true or not. We've had several incidents of vandalism around the city since the hotel opened. The investigation is a top priority for us but, unfortunately, we haven't had much luck so far identifying the culprits."
"How come I haven't heard anything about this?"
"We've been keeping it quiet. Don't want to unnecessarily disturb residents. Do you work for the Akaw?"
"Indirectly. I put together their website and developed an app for guests to use."
The officer jotted something down on his notepad. "An app, huh? My daughter keeps on talking about apps. What does this one do?"
"Gives guests information on the hotel and the city. There's a map of the Akaw, menus for the hotel's restaurant and room service, a list of local attractions, that kind of thing. Users can even order room service and book their next visit right from their phone."
"Sounds useful. Would it be easy for someone to find out you did all this work for the hotel?"
"Pretty easy. My company name and website address is at the bottom of every site I develop. Wouldn't take much research to find out who I was, though I don't know how they'd know where I live. I use a postal box for all of my company correspondence."
The officer cleared his throat. A look of discomfort momentarily appeared on his face. "A lot of people know where you live because of the recent ... problem."
When she'd found a body in her garden and been suspected of murder two months before, it was the talk of the town. Between word of mouth and articles in the local newspaper and on blogs, half the residents probably had her address tucked away in the back of their minds by now.
"I'm sorry this happened to you. I know it's troubling. We'll do everything we can to figure out who's responsible." He closed his notebook. "In the meantime, I'll file a report. You can get a copy if you need one for your insurance company."
"What are the chances you'll actually find out who did this?"
"Based on past experience with this kind of thing, not great. But I like to be optimistic. We'll process the note and canvass the neighborhood to see if anyone noticed anything. Maybe we'll get lucky. One of your neighbors could have a security camera. I promise, we'll do our best." Before stepping out the front door, Officer Yamada added, "Be sure to put something over that window. And don't hesitate to call again if something else happens."
After the officer left, Rory wondered whether the police would be able to catch the culprit. If they couldn't find the person who broke her window, she intended to look for the vandal herself. She stared at the photo she'd taken of the note, trying to get some clue as to its author. There wasn't any handwriting to analyze, only a font that could have been printed anywhere. She thought about talking to her neighbors, but one glance at the clock told her most of them wouldn't appreciate being disturbed at this hour. Any questioning would have to wait until morning.
Rory dialed her insurance company's hotline. After spending time on the phone with a representative, she called a twenty-four hour window repair service who promised to send someone right out. While they measured the window and boarded it up, she swept up the broken glass and returned the books to their places.
Too restless to work or go to bed, Rory dug back issues of the weekly newspaper, the Vista Beach View, out of the recycling bin and searched for the articles she remembered seeing about the Akaw. She read and reread the two she found for some indication as to who might have targeted her home.
The articles mentioned the contentious debates and endless city council meetings concerning the property that had once housed a private school. When the owners put the large lot up for sale, the city of Vista Beach planned to buy it, but the city council took too long to authorize the funds and the hotel builder swooped in and purchased the land instead. The council approved the hotel project in a close vote, the chairman himself leading the charge. Rory suspected the other council members targeted also voted for approval.
She returned the papers to the recycling bin and tried to figure out what to do next. Now that her anger had worn off, she felt the need to hear a friendly voice, so she speed-dialed a number she called every single day. Two rings later, Elizabeth Dexter answered.
"Hi, Rory," Liz said. "You've got to see this show I'm watching. These people marry someone they've never met. It's like a blind date, only instead of going out to dinner they meet at the altar. Crazy, right?" She launched into a detailed description of the latest reality TV show to catch her eye.
Smiling into her phone, Rory leaned back on the couch, relaxing into its soft cushions. The tension eased from her body as she listened to her best friend's nonstop chatter.
"So what's up with you?" Liz asked after she finished describing all of the episodes she'd seen so far.
Rory took a deep breath and blurted out, "Someone threw a rock through my window."
Without a moment's hesitation, Liz said, "I'll get my jammies and toothbrush and be right over."
A wave of relief washed over Rory. She hadn't realized how on edge she was about sleeping alone in the house that night. Most of the time she liked living by herself, but after the evening's events every creak and groan in the 1,200-square-foot structure made her jump.
Fifteen minutes later, Rory opened her front door to a petite woman, dressed in slacks and a printed blouse, whose head barely reached Rory's shoulders. Her dark brown hair fashioned in a pixie cut, Liz dropped her overnight bag on the hardwood floor and stood on tiptoe to give her friend a hug. "It must have been scary. Are you okay?"
"Much better now that you're here."
Hands on her hips, Liz peered around the room. "How much damage did they do?"
Rory pointed to the boarded up window next to her desk, tracing the path the projectile had taken with her finger. "The rock came through there and hit the bookcase over there. Sailed right past my head. One inch to the left and I'd have been knocked out." She fingered her ear, cringing at the memory of the close call. "I'm still having a hard time believing it wasn't a dream."
"More like a nightmare. On the bright side, no damage was done to your computer, so you haven't lost any work."
"Amen to that." Rory led the way to the rear of the house into the recently remodeled kitchen with its granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.
While Rory put on the tea kettle, Liz settled down at the kitchen table and peered through the window at the dimly lit side yard. She nodded toward the house on the other side of the fence. "I wonder if Granny G saw anything."
"Unfortunately, Mrs. Griswold's on vacation. Alaskan cruise."
"Too bad. She always notices things."
Rory's hyper-vigilant neighbor made it her business to know everything that happened on the block. She had no doubt, had the seventy-five-year-old been home, the police would already have the license plate number of the getaway car and be on their way to arrest the vandal.
Once the tea was ready, Rory cleared off space on the table, pushing a half-finished painting project off to one side. She set two cups filled to the brim on the wooden surface and sat down across from her friend. "Thanks for dropping everything and coming over. I feel better with you here."
Liz laid a hand on Rory's arm and smiled reassuringly. "Anything for my bestie." She wrapped both hands around her cup and sniffed appreciatively. "Mmm, peppermint. Now, what did the police say? Was it Dashing D? Was he the one who came to your rescue?"
An impish grin appeared on her face as she talked about Detective Martin Green, the Vista Beach police officer they'd met two months before when Rory found a body in her garden.
Rory blushed at the mention of the man who had been occupying her dreams more and more often lately. "I'm not a damsel in distress. Okay, maybe I was, a little bit. Anyway, Officer Yamada said some city council members' houses were hit as well. There might be others. It seems to be part of a protest against the Akaw." She took her cell phone out of the pocket of her jeans and brought up the photo she'd taken earlier of the note. "This was wrapped around the rock."
Liz studied the phone's display and whistled. "The pink paper's a nice touch. I'll have to ask my contact at the police station how many houses were hit. Lots of people work at the hotel, but I doubt most of them live in the city. The owner doesn't even live here. Rumor has it, he's up north somewhere."
Rory didn't question how her friend knew this tidbit. As a real estate agent, Liz never knew where her next sale or client would come from so she kept her ear to the ground, taking special note of any information relating to houses and plots of land within the city.
Rory put her elbow on the table and leaned her cheek against her hand. "It just makes me mad they hit my place. I wrote some code, that's all. There's no reason to threaten me or damage my home."
"You put together the website for the convention, too, and that's at the Akaw," Liz said, referring to the decorative painting convention they were scheduled to attend in the coming week. "That gives you two connections to the hotel. Besides, you're an easy target. Some people in town still have issues with you even after you were exonerated."
Rory didn't like to think that was true, but every once in a while she noticed covert glances cast in her direction as she walked around town. "I wonder if Ian's house was hit. He manages the hotel."
"Ian Blalock, right? He doesn't live in town. Bought a place in ... Hawthorne, I think. Cheaper."
Rory hoped the vandals were too lazy to drive the short distance inland and the man's home had been spared. "I hope he's okay. He seems like a nice guy. What else do you know about him?"
"You worked on the hotel's website. Didn't you talk?"
"Only about business, not his personal life. He doesn't wear a wedding ring, that's about all I know."
Liz gave Rory her best you-never-learn-anything-useful look. "Been in the hotel business for years. Like you said, he's single with a college-aged son. Moved here from Oregon or Washington, something like that." She took a sip of her tea. "Plus, he has the hots for Nixie," she continued, mentioning the name of the convention organizer and founder of the Ocean Painting Society.
"I hope all this nonsense doesn't ruin the convention for everyone. Nixie put tons of work into it."
"She's got a lot riding on it. It's the only thing she's got going since she was laid off from that event coordinating job. I'm looking forward to it. Your mom's going to be on the trade show floor, right?"
Rory's mother, owner of Arika's Scrap 'n Paint, a combination tole painting and scrapbooking supply store in town, was renting space on the trade show floor for the upcoming convention.
"That reminds me. Could you help set up the booth on Tuesday? I'm not sure what time yet."
"Sure, I can do that. Just let me know when to be there." Liz glanced at her watch. "We should probably get to bed. I've got an early showing tomorrow."
While Liz made herself at home in the guest bedroom, Rory did a final tour of the house, making sure every window and door was locked. By the time goodnights were said, she felt calmer and in more control. Within minutes of her head hitting the pillow, she fell fast asleep.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Paint The Town Dead"
Copyright © 2015 Sybil Johnson.
Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
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