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The Replacement Child: A Mystery

The Replacement Child: A Mystery

4.2 5
by Christine Barber

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Late on a Monday night, editor Lucy Newroe answers the phone in the Capital Tribune newsroom. The caller is the notorious Scanner Lady---an anonymous elderly tipster whose hobby is to phone the newspaper with gossip from her police scanner. The old woman tells Lucy she heard two Santa Fe cops discussing a dead body. But when Lucy checks out the tip, she


Late on a Monday night, editor Lucy Newroe answers the phone in the Capital Tribune newsroom. The caller is the notorious Scanner Lady---an anonymous elderly tipster whose hobby is to phone the newspaper with gossip from her police scanner. The old woman tells Lucy she heard two Santa Fe cops discussing a dead body. But when Lucy checks out the tip, she discovers Scanner Lady has been killed.
She tries to enlist the help of Detective Gil Montoya, but his mind is on another death. He has just been handed the case of Melissa Baca, a seventh-grade teacher whose body was thrown off the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Over the course of the next few days, as Lucy and Gil hunt down the culprits in each murder, they discover their cases are intertwined in the most intimate ways.
Rich with details of New Mexico and the people who live there, The Replacement Child is the perfect novel for anyone who has fallen in love with the Southwest that Tony Hillerman described so artfully in his Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee mysteries.

Editorial Reviews

Marilyn Stasio
Christine Barber is new to the Southwest in the sense that The Replacement Child is her first novel. But she has a great feel for the territory and for the family connections that enforce its strong community bonds.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly

Billed as the first winner of the Tony Hillerman Prize for best debut mystery set in the Southwest, Barber's first novel is full of exquisite New Mexico scenery, but it's not enough to buoy a routine plot. Santa Fe newspaper editor Lucy Newroe usually ignores the calls from an old woman known as Scanner Lady with police scanner tidbits, but soon after Scanner Lady tells Lucy she overheard two cops discussing a dead body, Melissa Baca is found dead in a gorge outside the city. Det. Sgt. Gil Montoya strives to reconcile conflicting statements about Melissa's family and alleged drug use. Responding to an emergency call, Lucy, who also volunteers as a medic, finds the body of an elderly woman near a police scanner and fears her source has been murdered. Reluctantly joining forces, Lucy and Gil discover that the links between the two murders run deeper than they imagined. Like Lucy, Barber is a journalist and volunteer EMT; hopefully, she'll use this background to flesh out her heroine in a sequel. (Oct.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
Winner of the first annual Tony Hillerman Prize for best mystery debut set in the Southwest. First Melissa Baca, a teacher at the Burroway Academy, is pitched off New Mexico's Taos Gorge Bridge. Then elderly Patsy Burke, who heard two policemen discussing the death over her scanner and called the tip in to the Capital Tribune, is strangled in her home. Tribune editor Lucy Newroe, feeling bad about shirking her EMT volunteer work, piles more guilt on herself for paying only cursory attention to "Scanner Lady." When she checks the newsroom scanners, there's no record of cops talking. Detective Sergeant Gilbert Montoya of the Santa Fe Police, alerted to drug paraphernalia surrounding Melissa by Officer Manny Cordova, thinks there's little chance the cases are related. But as Lucy pesters him, alibis disintegrate, and the Burroway principal turns out to be keeping some unsavory secrets of his own. Meanwhile, Melissa's mom, blaming herself for one son's death and mourning the murder of the daughter who replaced him, drives her other son, ignored and desperate for attention, to one of her bridge-playing foursome for solace. By the time Montoya and Lucy understand how that two-man conversation reached only one scanner, another Baca family member has died, a cop has hit the skids and Lucy has gone reluctantly on one more EMT call. The Santa Fe landscape and ethnicities are well handled, and the scanner denouement is a neat surprise. Though Barber isn't yet up to bearing the Hillerman mantle, her debut offers reason enough to anticipate a sequel.

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The Replacement Child

By Christine Barber

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2008 Christine Barber
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-8738-7


Monday Night

Lucy Newroe hated the word supererogation. It was one of those ridiculous words you'd see in a Reader's Digest Word Power quiz. Like quidnunc or sesquipedalian — words whose only purpose was to make the user look smart and the listener feel stupid.

Lucy had no clue what supererogation meant, and she didn't know how to spell it. Obviously, neither did the reporter who had written the story she was editing — he had spelled it "superaregation." The spell check on Lucy's computer wanted her to change it to "super are nation," as if that made more sense.

Normally, she would have taken the word out, but it was in a direct quote: "'The constant superaregation by the director bordered on the absurd,' said audience member Jake Plumber." There was no changing of quotes in news stories. Either she took the word out and paraphrased the quote or kept the word in and figured out how to spell it.

"Oh, hell," Lucy said to her computer. No one even turned to look. It was about 11:30 P.M. Her side of the newsroom was empty except for her and a lone reporter, while the copy-desk side was full of people working quietly. The story deadline had come and gone, but the page deadline still was an hour away. The dance-company review she was editing didn't need to be done until tomorrow. As the night city editor, she had to wait until the copy desk finished its pages before she could go home.

Lucy got up to look for a dictionary as her phone rang. She picked it up and rambled off her phone introduction without even thinking — "Capital Tribune newsroom. This is Lucy Newroe. How can I help you?" — as she tried to make the phone cord reach to the dictionary on the shelf.

"Is Harold there?"

Lucy recognized the voice. It was old and female. "It's just me in charge tonight," Lucy said as she grabbed the dictionary.

"How about Steve?"

Lucy smiled. Scanner Lady always wanted to talk to the male editors, never to her. "I'm it. You're stuck with me, I guess. What's going on?"

Scanner Lady hesitated. Lucy thought she was going to hang up.

"Well, I don't know," said the voice.

"Did you hear something on the police scanner?" Lucy asked, as she paged through the S's in the dictionary — was it "supere" or "supera"?

"I think I did." Scanner Lady hesitated again. "I think I heard two Santa Fe police officers talking about calling in the OMI and the state police."

Lucy tossed down the dictionary and started taking notes. Calling in the Office of the Medical Investigator meant a dead body, and calling in the New Mexico State Police to investigate meant that whatever had happened, it might involve a cop. The state police automatically took over any case that concerned a law enforcement officer.

Lucy snapped her fingers at Tommy Martinez, the night cops reporter. He turned and looked at her as she pointed to her phone. He knew what it meant. He grabbed his notepad and ran over to Lucy's desk.

"So you heard the Santa Fe cops call out the OMI and state police?" She was repeating it for confirmation and so that Tommy could hear. He guessed who it was on the phone. "Thank God for Scanner Lady," he whispered, and started taking notes.

Lucy ignored him and said into the phone, "When was this?"

"Just a few minutes ago," Scanner Lady said. "I don't want to say any more. Just listen to your scanner."

But Lucy had been listening to the scanner — it sat on a shelf right above her desk — and she hadn't heard anything. It wasn't unusual for police scanners to pick up different traffic. There were two scanners in the newsroom — one on her desk and one in the photo department, twenty feet away. The one in photo picked up more calls from the city police, while hers picked up more county calls and an occasional cell-phone call.

But both scanners were quiet. The last call had been something about a truck full of teenagers skidding into an icy arroyo.

"Are you sure?" Lucy asked. "I haven't heard anything. Can you tell me anything more? What exactly did they say?"

"Just listen. I'm sure you'll hear it."

Lucy heard the finality in her voice, but she still had so many questions. Were the voices male or female? What made her think it involved the Santa Fe city police and not the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Department? Had they said whether the killing was in the line of duty or something else?

Scanner Lady always played it like this — never giving out all the information, not even her name. She called about once a week. It had become a sort of game for Lucy to figure out who she was. Scanner Lady's voice was old, raspy. Maybe a smoker? She was definitely Anglo. Once, Lucy almost got her to inadvertently mention what side of town she lived on, but Scanner Lady went into a coughing fit and hung up before revealing anything. She never mentioned having children or a husband. And she never gave her reason for calling in with her tips. Did she just need someone to talk to?

Most of the time, her calls amounted to nothing. But a few times, what she had heard had turned into a story. That was enough that Lucy never ignored her.

Lucy hung up and looked down at her notes. All she had written was:

OMI Statecops Santa Fe Dead body???

She looked at her watch — 11:34 P.M. This was going to be tough. Tommy was already on the phone, trying to get hold of the night supervisor at the state police. He looked up at her and shook his head.

"Just give it your best shot, Tommy. We've gotten stories later than this," she said.

And they had. Just last week they'd had a stabbing at 11:45 P.M. and managed to get a ten-inch story in the paper by the 12:30 P.M. page deadline. But a story involving the possible investigation of a police officer and a dead body was something else. Getting that story during working hours was a chore; this late at night, it was next to impossible.

Lucy was too anxious to sit. She walked over to the copy-desk side of the newsroom and watched the editors design the pages for tomorrow's paper. Across the office, she heard Tommy unleashing his phone charm. He must have been talking to a female police dispatcher: he was laughing a lot — a teasing, swinging laugh. Lucy heard him say, "A la ve ..." and then, "No sé ..." He slipped between the local Spanish and English, busting out his best Northern New Mexico accent for the English. His vowels were twice the normal length, stretching out the words into a singsong lullaby. His English had no hard consonant edges and his Spanish was not quick-step Mexican Spanish, but the slow, taffy-pulling colonial Spanish still spoken in Santa Fe.

Tommy was a Northern New Mexico farm boy, the second youngest of nine from a family who had lived in the mountain village of Ojo Sarco for fifteen generations. His grandmother spoke no English, only the Old New Mexico Spanish, as did all his great-uncles and-aunts still on the farm. Tommy had been the first child in his family to finish college, although a sister had done time in a vocational school for paralegals. Why Tommy had decided to become a journalist, Lucy still didn't know. But he'd been born to it.

His technique for gathering news tips relied heavily on females and flirting. Tommy would tell the middle-aged female police dispatchers of his love for his mother's tamales and how he missed his sisters. He would tell the young female dispatchers about his love for country-western music and how he lived for the smell of a woman after sex. And in return, they would tell him anything.

Lucy jumped as one of the copy editors spoke.

"Lucy, you're making me nervous. Would you stop pacing?" the editor said without looking up as he typed in a headline.

She went back to her desk, sat down, and stared at the wall, trying to relax. The room was windowless, like the sensory-deprivation cells used by the KGB to break American spies. The newsroom was painted sea-foam green, with matching cubicle dividers splitting the space up into playhouse-size streets and alleys. The ceiling was low, with the obligatory fluorescent lights that occasionally strobed. The color of the walls and the artificial light gave everything an aquarium feel, right down to the wet, dank smell coming from under the receptionist's desk.

The building itself was a mishmash of old and new. Part of it was from the 1800s, the rest from the 1970s. The result was sloping tiled floors where an errant step up would meet three steps down. Walls stopped and started in random patterns. According to office legend, the Capital Tribune had been built on top of the graves of Spanish colonialists killed during the Pueblo Revolt, the odd bumps and angles of the floor made when the coffins were paved over. Some of the night press workers claimed that sometimes, late at night, they heard a woman crying and praying the rosary in Spanish. One of the advertising reps had once come in to work at dawn and supposedly seen a man gliding down a hallway dressed in the brown robes of a mission priest. Lucy wondered if you could use "saw a ghostly vision" as an excuse to take a sick day.

Lucy glanced over at Tommy as he hung up the phone, flipped through his Rolodex, and quickly dialed another number.

She heard him say, "This is Tommy Martinez, from the Capital Tribune. Who is this?" The person on the other end said something and Tommy smiled, saying, "Beth Ann? I don't think we've met. What's your last name?" Lucy shook her head. Poor Beth Ann, she didn't stand a chance. By the end of the conversation she would be telling Tommy everything, including when they would be getting together for drinks.

Tommy paused on the phone, waiting for Beth Ann's answer. "You're a Garcia? Are you related to Tony Garcia who works at Pep Boys? ... No? ... How about Sarah Garcia at the state land office? ... No? ... Of course, oh yeah, I know your sister. ... Me? I'm from Ojo Sarco." Tommy started to laugh. "Yeah, the hillbilly Martinezes ..." They continued with the expected Northern New Mexico greeting: determining if they were related or had mutual friends.

The Martinezes, Garcias, Vigils, Trujillos — all the native Hispanic families in Santa Fe — were related somehow, their blood intermingling through marriage for more than four hundred years. The Spanish conquistadores came to Santa Fe in the early 1600s, and the settlers followed soon after. A Garden of Eden, with a handful of Spanish Adams and Eves. The other Spanish colonies in America didn't survive the eventual flood of immigrants. But in Santa Fe, protected by high-desert sands and a wreath of surrounding mountains, there was no flood. The colonists planted apple orchards and built adobe churches, all the while keeping the Old Ways. They were not Mexican. Not truly Spanish. They were colonial Spanish. Castilian.

Lucy waited until Tommy hung up the phone. She walked over to him and he told her what she had expected to hear: He had called the state cops, the Santa Fe police, the hospitals, the Santa Fe County sheriff, and even the city of Española police. Nothing.

"Tommy, you're heading out to the police station tomorrow morning to do your cop checks, right? Maybe we can look into it more then," Lucy said.

Twice a day reporters went to the Santa Fe police station to look over the incident reports to see if anything warranted a story. In the hot sheets last week, there had been a small item about a man setting fire to his house and running around it naked while singing "Amazing Grace." It had made an amusing story and had been picked up by the national news services.

"Actually, the Gomez trial gets started tomorrow, remember?" Tommy said.

Lucy hadn't remembered. Sam Gomez had allegedly shot into a crowd of people during the Christmastime performance of Las Posadas two years ago, wounding the woman who played the Virgin Mary. The trial was attracting statewide attention and had to be covered.

She thought for a second. "I'll do it. I'll go to the police station tomorrow morning before I come into work."

Tommy looked surprised. According to newspaper etiquette, editors didn't do grunt work. She should have assigned it to a different reporter instead of going herself.

"I have to get up early anyway," she added.

Tommy looked doubtful but said nothing. He wished her good night as he left.

Lucy looked down at her desk. The dictionary stared back up at her, still opened to S. Lucy sat down and pulled the dictionary to her.

She found it right after superduper. Supererogation, with one o and two e's." It meant "the act of doing more than what is required or expected."

She smiled to herself. She really did have to get up early — sort of.

Patsy Burke sat in her easy chair, flipping channels. It was almost one A.M. She stopped when she reached Law & Order, her husband's favorite. It was a rerun, but she didn't mind. Her memory being what it was, it would seem new to her. She smiled at her joke.

A detergent commercial came on, but the announcer's voice was too high for her hearing aid, so she muted the sound. As she watched a voiceless laughing woman get stains out of her skirt, Patsy thought about the conversation she'd had with her granddaughter three days ago.

"Grandma, what would you have been if you could have been something?" Brittany had asked. Brittany was doing a school project on choosing a career. As if babies her age should be thinking about such things, Patsy thought. They should be making zoo animals out of straws or pasting oak leaves onto construction paper.

But in the end, Patsy had played along.

"An astronaut," she said, thinking that it would please her. Brittany loved Justin Timberlake and — since the family had gone on vacation to Cape Canaveral last summer — space exploration.

"No, Grandma, you hate flying. Now really think this time."

So Patsy thought.

She'd been born during the Depression and had grown up practical. What was that Doris Day song? "Que Sera, Sera"? Patsy had never been to college. She and John had married straight out of high school. The day after their honeymoon to Kansas City was over, she moved out of her parents' farmhouse and into John's parents' home. But she had dreamed of college, even though her mother had always said, "Don't live beyond your means, or dream beyond your dreams." One of the town girls Patsy went to high school with had gone to college, but the girl had dropped out after only four months to get married. Not that the girl would have had much of a choice. In their day, proper women picked from only two careers — nurse or teacher.

Now her granddaughter was asking her to make the choice she'd never had. Patsy said the first thing that came into her head.

"A newspaper reporter."

Brittany seemed pleased.

Since then, Patsy had played the game by herself, changing her chosen profession from day to hour. So far she had been a police officer, a beekeeper, a nurse, a florist, a professional traveler, and a TV news anchor. Today it was a talk-show host for the geriatric set, an Oprah in her eighties. "Okay, audience, today our topic is dentures." Patsy smiled, thinking she would tell her next-door neighbor Claire that one.

The show came back on and she turned up the sound. It was about a small boy who had been killed. As they showed the boy's body, she realized that he looked like George. Patsy quickly turned the channel. She flipped stations until she was sure that the shot of the dead boy was over, then settled back down to watch.

At least the tears hadn't come this time. She hadn't thought of George in months. She wondered if that meant she was forgetting him. She closed her eyes and leaned back, trying to remember the last time she had thought of him. But she couldn't. She got up slowly, her bad hip giving her a twinge. She tried to do the yoga breathing that Claire was teaching her. Something about breathing into the pain. But after a few puffs of breath in and out, she gave up and walked stiffly to her bedroom. She pulled open the drawer of her nightstand, rattling a few prescription bottles on top of the table. She opened the the cover of her white-covered Bible and pulled out four photographs. The top one was in black-and-white. George smiling back at her.


Excerpted from The Replacement Child by Christine Barber. Copyright © 2008 Christine Barber. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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

Christine Barber is an award-winning journalist as well as a certified emergency medical technician and firefighter. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she is currently pursuing a career in medicine. She previously worked as an editor at the Santa Fe New Mexican and a journalist for the Albuquerque Journal and Gallup Independent. The Replacement Child is her first novel.

Christine Barber is an award-winning journalist as well as a certified emergency medical technician and firefighter. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She has worked as an editor at the Santa Fe New Mexican and a writer for the Albuquerque Journal and Gallup Independent. She is the author of the novels The Replacement Child and The Bone Fire.

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Replacement Child 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Maxibleu More than 1 year ago
Those who are enchanted with the Northern New Mexico / Santa Fe area will doubly enjoy this finely crafted mystery. Ms. Barber skillfully develops her characters amidst a backdrop of well known Santa Fe locations, so the reader is able to create in his/her mind a highly visual who, what, when and where. The plot unwinds purposefully page by page, and even the most prolific mystery solver is kept guessing until the very end.
Guest More than 1 year ago
On her scanner, elderly Patsy ¿Scanner Lady¿ Burke overhears two state cops discuss the death of twenty-three years old Burroway Academy seventh grade teacher Melissa Baca who was thrown from the Taos Gorge Bridge. As she has done a zillion times before, Patsy calls the Santa Fe Capital Tribune but this time is stuck with a female, editor Lucy Newroe with the news. ----------- A volunteer EMT, Lucy and her medico partner Gil answer an emergency call by going to the home of an elderly woman where she finds Patsy strangled to death. She checks the police scanner log but finds no entry re the Baca death. Santa Fe police Detective Sergeant Gil Montoya investigates the Baca death finding discrepancies over alleged drug use. With Lucy badgering Gil, they team up seeking more than just the scanner link between the two homicides.------------ Readers will understand why THE REPLACEMENT CHILD won the annual Tony Hillerman Prize for best previously unpublished mystery set in the Southwest as the scanner murders are fun to follow and the Santa Fe setting makes an ideal backdrop. The story line is fast-paced from the moment the Scanner Lady calls Lucy and never slows down. Although the coincidence of Lucy answering the medical call is a minor quibble, fans will enjoy Christine Barber¿s first Santa Fe whodunit.----------- Harriet Klausner