“A page-turner! Smart, fast-paced and surprising.” – Hank Phillippi Ryan, Mary Higgins Clark Award-Winner, Author of Say No More
Freshly minted college graduate Maggie O’Malley embarks on a career fueled by professional ambition and a desire to escape the past. As a pharmaceutical researcher, she’s determined to save lives from the shelter of her lab. But on her very first day she’s pulled into a world of uncertainty. Reminders appear on her phone for meetings she’s never scheduled with people she’s never met. People who end up dead.
With help from her best friend, Maggie discovers the victims on her phone are connected to each other and her new employer. She soon unearths a treacherous plot that threatens her mission—and her life. Maggie must unlock deadly secrets to stop horrific abuses of power before death comes calling for her.
“Medicine and murder come together in Kathleen Valenti’s page-turning debut, Protocol, a twisty and breathless exploration of big Pharma and the drugs that can both save...and kill. This one will have you up all night following Maggie O’Malley on her search for the truth. A new heroine in an age of technology and ‘miracle drugs,’ I can’t want to see what Maggie has up her sleeve next. If you like a book with smarts, a heart, and flesh-and-blood characters, don’t miss Protocol. This one is a winner!” – Maggie Barbieri, Author of the Murder 101 Series
“Gutsy and loyal, Maggie O’Malley finds herself plunged into the corrupt and chilling world of big pharmaceuticals where trusting the wrong person could prove as deadly as an experimental drug side effect. With a page-turner debut like Protocol, I can’t wait to see what Valenti cooks up for us next!" – Annette Dashofy, USA Today Bestselling author of the Zoe Chambers Mysteries
“An exciting start to a new mystery series, Protocol offers up a fast-paced, suspenseful plot starring complex characters with great heart. Powerful, tense, and satisfying. Valenti grabs you from page one and never lets go.” – Wendy Tyson, Author of Bitter Harvest
Related subjects include: women sleuths, murder mystery series, whodunit mysteries (whodunnit), amateur sleuth mysteries, book club recommendations, suspense, medical thrillers.
Books in the Maggie O’Malley Mystery Series:
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Series Collection, if you like one, you'll probably like them all.
When Kathleen Valenti isn’t writing page-turning mysteries that combine humor and suspense, she works as a nationally award-winning advertising copywriter. Protocol is her debut novel and the first of the Maggie O’Malley mystery series. Kathleen lives in Oregon with her family where she pretends to enjoy running.
Read an Excerpt
Maggie affixed what she hoped was a believable smile on her face. An arrhythmia-inducing techno beat thrummed through her body as a band called The Florid Drunks performed relentlessly a few feet away. Three women with long hair and short skirts danced toward the low stage, shoulders dipping and hips rolling, trying to catch the eye of the lead singer, who strummed the microphone cord in front of his crotch.
Whoever said it took more muscles to frown than smile had never been to The Office Bar & Grille.
"Isn't this great?" Zartar shouted, her kohl-lined eyes squinting against the bar's colored strobe lights.
Maggie widened the pasted-on smile and nodded. "Oh, yes," she yelled back. "Fantastic."
She had felt a ripple of panic when her two new coworkers had invited her out for a drink at the pharmaceutical crowd's favorite watering hole. Sure, her new lab partners were nice, but Maggie didn't friend easily. Outside of Constantine, she had, what? Two, maybe three friends?
But today was the beginning of a new chapter, her first day at her first real job. What better time to do something different, be something different, to define her life instead of the other way around?
She just had to get through the evening without losing her hearing. Or making a fool of herself.
Zartar glanced at Maggie's drink and raised her hand to catch the waiter's attention. She held three fingers aloft, the international sign for another round of the same. "Let's turn up the fun, shall we?" she trilled.
Before Maggie could protest, the waiter trotted off toward a black walnut bar crammed with twenty-somethings. Maggie shifted in her seat, trying to scoot farther into the tiny booth that threatened to disgorge her and her new coworkers/maybe-friends.
Her mouth ached with muscle fatigue. She licked her lips and took a sip of water.
The band ended its set and the musicians fist-bumped their way to the bar. Maggie's ears still rung with their cover of "Crazy Train."
"Finally," Zartar said, pulling her peasant blouse lower as the guitarist walked by. "Now we can hear about your first day."
"Yeah," Roselyn said, lining up her mozzarella sticks like tiny jets readying for takeoff, then blotting them with a napkin. "How was it?"
"Good," Maggie said, smiling genuinely for the first time. "Great, actually."
And why wouldn't it be? The position had been a real coup, not just because she'd bested a hundred and forty other applicants, but because she'd found something in her field with a company on the rise. The economy had left most new grads scrambling for the crumbs that fell from the corporate table. She was damn lucky, especially now that her father needed her. Plus, she was trying new things, like tonight.
The drinks arrived, white wine for Roselyn, margarita for Zartar, and vodka Collins for Maggie. Maggie took a long drag on her drink, savoring the sensation as the alcohol burned a path from her lips to her belly. "So how many years have you logged at Rxcellance?" she asked.
"Rx," Zartar corrected. "That's what everyone calls it. Rozzie's been there two years, I've been there three. Nearly four."
"You like it?"
"Something like that," Zartar said.
Maggie grabbed a jalapeno popper and stole a look at Zartar's face. Not a crack in the pore-minimizing foundation. She glanced at Roselyn. She was busy squirting hand sanitizer from a trial size bottle onto her hands. "Trouble in paradise?" Maggie asked.
Zartar downed her drink in two gulps, then sucked her teeth. "Not really. I just grew up to be someone different than I thought I'd be."
Maggie was trying to find a nice way to ask what that was supposed to mean when her phone chimed, its cheery bicycle bell warbling through the thin fabric of her nylon purse.
She plunged her hand into the bag, batted aside a billfold, a wad of Post-it notes and a half-eaten Luna bar, then pulled it free. She looked at the screen, sure it was her father checking in after her first day of work — a.k.a. Day One as the Human Life Raft.
A photo of a middle-aged woman with a designer haircut framing model-perfect cheekbones smiled back.
Zartar peered over her shoulder. "Who's the hottie?"
Maggie stared at the tiny screen. "I don't know," she answered. "I've never seen her before." Maggie tapped the phone's screen. A phrase appeared beneath the woman's photo:
TIME: 9 p.m. – 11 p.m.
Maggie frowned and tapped the screen again, hoping a name, contact information, something helpful, would materialize.
"If you've never seen her before," Zartar asked, reading the text, "then why do you have a meeting with her?"
"I don't," Maggie said. "I mean, it says we're scheduled to meet, but I've never seen her before, and I definitely didn't arrange any meeting." She shrugged, deleted the photo and dropped her phone back into her purse. "Must be some kind of glitch. I just got this phone a couple of days ago."
Maggie made a mental note to ask Constantine about the phone.
Maggie stayed longer — and drank more — than she intended. After she hit the bottom of her third drink and second serving of nachos, which had arrived at the table with a tiny Mexican flag as if the nation had conquered mountains of chips and cheese, she checked her watch, a dainty rhinestone affair that had once belonged to her mother.
Ten fifteen. How had the time gone so quickly?
She stood, peeling the backs of her sweaty knees from the leather seat. "I've gotta go. It's getting late."
"Late?" Zartar choked on her margarita. "What are you, ten years old?"
"Careful, or I won't share my candy necklace with you." Maggie folded some bills and slipped them under her glass. "I have to catch up on a couple of journal articles tonight, get up early for a run and —"
"Prepare your speech for The World's Most Boring Twenty-Five-Year-Old," Zartar finished. She pulled a tube and compact from her clutch purse and reapplied lip gloss. "I'm kidding. I mean, I prefer my exercise between the sheets, but whatever floats your boat. See you tomorrow."
"Bye," Roselyn said, bouncing up to give Maggie a quick hug. "I'm so glad you came out with us."
Maggie gave her a small squeeze back. She was glad, too. Despite the crowds and the noise, it had been a good evening. Fun, even. And she was starting to like her new coworkers. Maybe this doing-something-new thing would pan out.
Maggie excuse-me'd and pardon-me'd her way toward The Office's entrance. She glanced up at the enormous TV near the door. Someone had changed the channel from football to the news. A "BREAKING STORY" banner bleated from the top of the screen. Maggie read as she dragged her hand through her purse, trolling for keys.
Post Reporter Killed in Hit-and-Run
It wasn't the words that made her breath catch in her throat. It was the image that accompanied them.
The photo was a classic promotional shot, dated but professional. It featured a woman with long straight hair, fuchsia-colored blush and oversized eyeglasses. Maggie had never seen the photo before, but the woman's features, her self-assured gaze, were unmistakably familiar.
Maggie felt something stir deep in her belly, a feeling of disquiet that yawned and stretched and awakened. She swallowed.
It was the woman from the strange meeting reminder. Maggie was sure of it. She plucked her phone from her purse and scrolled.
No photo. No meeting reminder. Nothing to prove that the woman whose face was splashed across the TV screen was the same woman who had appeared on Maggie's phone a couple of hours earlier.
Right. Because she had deleted it. Genius.
She cleared her throat. The bartender, who looked as if he moonlighted as a Swedish tennis star, looked at her. "Can you turn that up?" she asked.
He gave a toothpaste commercial smile, grabbed the remote from beside the cash register and stabbed the volume button.
A hair-helmeted woman in a nipped-in navy blue jacket looked earnestly into the camera. "Tragedy tonight as award-winning journalist Elsa Henderson was killed in a hit-and-run in the heart of the city. Henderson, who worked for The Post, is remembered by friends and colleagues for her talent, professionalism and determination to get the story."
The camera cut away from the news anchor to archival footage of the woman who had been on Maggie's phone. Elsa Henderson receiving awards. Elsa Henderson being interviewed. Elsa Henderson looking cool and professional. And alive.
Maggie took a moment to marvel at how quickly the station had pulled together footage. It made sense. Elsa was print and they were TV, but as a journalist, she was one of their own.
The story was long on sentiment but short on answers. There were no eyewitnesses. No security camera footage. Just the reporter's description of Elsa Henderson's body lying in the street, arms outstretched in the equal sign that formed the crosswalk.
Maggie tapped a finger against her mouth. The more she watched the footage, the more she was certain that it was the same woman from the appointment reminder. The woman who had been killed within hours of appearing on Maggie's phone.
A chill scuttled up Maggie's back. She rubbed her arms briskly to scrub away the goose bumps that had sprung on her skin. She had a sudden and intense urge to get out of The Office, to escape the TV screen and whatever the strange coincidence meant.
And that's exactly what it was. A coincidence.
What else could it be?CHAPTER 2
Maggie rubbed her eyes and craned her neck. A sea of brake lights stretched out beneath the morning sky. It had been a long night of sleep fractured by images of the woman on her phone. Now it looked like it was going to be a long morning.
Maggie opened her car door and stepped out to see why traffic had stopped. A long line of vehicles stretched out before her. She squinted. In the distance, she saw picket signs bouncing up and down. She and her fellow commuters were adrift in the latest wave of demonstrations.
Maggie was surprised that she was surprised.
Even before she'd moved to the big city, news of increasing disquiet had traveled from Greenville to Collinsburg with breathless alacrity, bringing reports of pockets of unrest that spread like prickly heat across the blistering city.
Maggie just didn't think she'd find herself in the middle of it. On the way to her second day of work.
She checked the dashboard clock. 7:48. Twelve minutes to get there.
A tightness traversed her chest. This was supposed to be the honeymoon phase of employment, where she wowed management and coworkers with her dedication, competency and work ethic.
Pretty much the opposite of showing up late on the second day.
She thought about her father. The restaurant with its peeling paint and empty parking lot. A surge of bile threatened to climb up her throat.
Come on, come on, come on, she pleaded silently to the line of cars. Move.
As if in response to her plea, brake lights blinked off ahead of her. The line of cars crept forward, a reception line moving toward the union of two busy intersections.
Progress. Slow, yes. But at least it surpassed glacial.
Maggie slumped against her seat as she idled forward. The traffic jam had a silver lining: now she had plenty of time to relive the embarrassment of the night before.
Spurred by a desire to escape the unnerving newscast she'd just witnessed, Maggie had charged toward The Office's entrance. The moment she'd reached the pub's rough-hewn door, however, it swung open to admit a new stream of after-work revelers.
Maggie lost her balance and pitched forward. She stumbled, ankles turning in new sling-backs, and fell clumsily against a man. She had tried to right herself, hands scrabbling for purchase, then slipped again, pulling the man's pants down with her.
"Whoa." The man grabbed the waistband of his khakis as they slid down his hips. He took Maggie by the elbows and righted her against the door.
Nearby patrons looked at her like she'd grown another head. Across the bar, she could see Zartar and Roselyn pausing mid-drink to take in the scene, their mouths tiny Os of shock.
"Are you okay?" the man had asked.
Maggie widened her stance to regain her balance and stared at him. The man smiled, his broad mouth revealing two crooked eye teeth. She wanted to look away, to answer his question. It would be the polite thing to do. The normal thing to do. But she felt stunned, as if an electric jolt had coursed through her body.
His grin broadened, dimples sprouting on cheeks. "I've had women fall for me, but never quite like this."
She had opened her mouth, closed it, opened it again, trying to find her voice, trying to find something witty — or anything at all — to say. Then the crowd surged forward and swept the man into the warm embrace of the bar as he smiled and waved at her.
Now trapped in morning gridlock, Maggie felt her face grow hot with the memory. She gave herself an inner eye-roll and mental face-palm. Another tick in the column for Maggie, Queen of the Socially Awkward.
But it wasn't like she was going to see Captain Handsome again. She was free to move on to other uncomfortable thoughts. Like the woman who had appeared on her phone then ended up dead.
Maggie couldn't imagine why she had received a reminder for a meeting with Elsa Henderson. She didn't know her. She hadn't even set up any appointments in the app. Maybe the reminder was intended for someone else. Or maybe it was a preview of coming attractions, an electronic crystal ball that offered a glimpse into the future.
Maggie knew that was ridiculous, but her stomach hadn't gotten the message. It flip-flopped in her belly, sending a surge of acid into her esophagus. She opened the glove box and shook out two antacids from an old film canister.
She chewed slowly.
There had to be a rational explanation, and she'd find it. She was a woman of science, after all. The fact that the same stranger who'd appeared on her phone was now lying in the morgue was just some strange quirk of fate, a technological glitch or both.
Or maybe it was —
Suddenly a man lunged from the sidewalk and pounded on her passenger window. "Death to capitalist pigs!" he yelled.
Somewhere in her brain she registered the lack of originality of his rallying cry, and it irritated her. At least make an effort.
But there were no catchy catchphrases or rousing songs to accompany these protests. What had begun as a peaceful Occupy Main Street demonstration to decry a proposed salary freeze for government employees had devolved into a me-too movement that attracted the generally-disgruntled as well as the directly affected. Tempers matched temperatures for heat and intensity. There wasn't much room for creativity. Or kindness for drivers on their way to work.
Maggie flinched at the angry voice, her arm accidentally hitting the horn.
The man's face purpled, his mouth twisting first in surprise, then in rage. He heaved his sign over his head and brought it down on Maggie's windshield. An image of Porky Pig dressed as Uncle Sam crashed against the glass. Maggie ducked as if the sign had struck her head.
The man raised the sign and swung again. The traffic light turned green. Maggie put the car in gear and stood on the gas pedal. The car bucked, throwing Maggie back in her seat, then lurched forward, knocking the man's sign from his hand. He stumbled and fell to the ground.
Maggie sped away. At a whopping eight miles per hour.
She glanced into her rearview mirror. The man gave her a one-fingered salute but didn't seem interested in pursuing her.
Fecking ass, she thought, using the Irish-ized version of the Fbomb her father, and therefore Maggie, had always preferred. She flipped the man off in her head, hoping she'd magically developed a Carrie-like telekinesis that would jab him in some secret lobe of his brain, then concentrated on the matter at hand: getting to work on time.
Her mind wandered back to the woman on her phone.
Could her death somehow be a result of the protests? Was the hit-and-run driver a protester who was angry about the media coverage? Someone exacting revenge for an unflattering portrayal of the conflict? The protests had been the top story for weeks, especially after sanitation and transportation employees had joined the fray, leaving the city still and reeking like a corpse rotting in the sun. Maybe frustration had boiled over, sweeping Elsa Henderson away in its frothy rage.
Maggie shook the thoughts from her mind. Her theories were pure conjecture, made out of whole cloth and half-assed ideas. She was getting caught up in emotion. And there was no time for that.
Maggie willed her pulse to slow, concentrating on loosening the muscles that banded her stomach like steel ropes. Six minutes later, Maggie arrived at the company parking lot.
She took a deep breath and looked up at her new professional home.
Ensconced in a hulking steel monolith, Rxcellance loomed over its neighbors like an officious landlord.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Protocol"
Copyright © 2017 Kathleen Valenti.
Excerpted by permission of Henery Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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