Title: Orion’s Foot: Myth, Mystery, and Romance in the Amazon
Author: M. S. Spencer
Genre: Mystery/Romantic Suspense
Petra Steele is wallowing in self-pity after being dumped at the altar, when her brother Nick invites her to come to the Peruvian Amazon. Before she even sets her suitcase down, she's confronted with a murder victim. In a research station peopled with a quirky assortment of scientists, she is drawn to Emory Andrews, a gruff, big man with a secret past. That is, until his beautiful ex-wife shows up. More murders, more secrets, more mysteries ensue, all in the deeply romantic, sizzling jungle.
They went back down the path they’d come, surveying the ground and vegetation for any trace of a large animal. They had reached the mahogany tree when Petra checked her watch. “Winston’s been gone half an hour. Maybe we should—” Her words were cut off by a low snarl. “Emory? Is that you?” She whirled around. “Where are you?”
For answer, the growl grew deeper and more menacing. Sounds like a gorilla—but they don’t live here, do they? She whispered, “Emory?”
“Shh.” She looked up. Emory clung to a low branch of the mahogany tree. He held a hand out. “Quickly.”
She grabbed a liana, hoping fervently it wasn’t a Strychnos vine, and scrambled up. The growl came again, closer. They climbed higher. Something crashed through the woods, puffing. Whatever it was entered the clearing, and the noise stopped. Petra held her breath and Emory’s hand. It must be looking for us. After a lengthy pause that left her feeling chilled to the bone in the torrid heat, the puffing started again, gradually diminishing into the distance. She waited five more minutes to be sure it was gone before whispering, “Did you get a look at it?”
“No, the foliage was in the way, but it sounded awfully big. And grouchy. I’m going to—” As he started to climb down, a twig snapped below them. They froze.
Something’s being dragged through the underbrush. They waited another five minutes. Finally, she ventured, “Do you think it’s gone?”
“I don’t know. Let me go first.” He ducked and touched the top of his head. “Uh-oh. I hope that’s not monkey scat.”
She raised her face to the canopy. “It’s rain.”
“Just a drizzle. No problem. We…shit.”
The downpour came suddenly, drenching them. They sat, huddled under the canopy of leaves, waiting it out. Petra tasted a drop on her forearm. “They don’t have acid rain here, do they?”
“No—they have a lot of poisonous species here, but no industrial pollution that I know of.” He shielded his face and looked up. “We can only hope manchineel trees don’t grow here. We’ll have to ask Aguirre when we get back.”
“Small trees of the swamp. Their sap is extremely toxic. If it drips on you, it burns and blisters the skin. Enough exposure can kill you.”
“But if the poison is only in the sap, we’re safe unless we tap into the tree, right?”
“I wish. It’s a particularly vicious plant—even runoff from the leaves in a rainstorm can sluice the poison onto your skin.”
“Great.” She began to shiver, mainly due to nerves. The rain stopped.
They heard a shout. Winston came tumbling into the clearing. “Up here!”
He looked up. “What are you doing up there?”
“We heard something.”
“Never mind. I have news!” He panted. “My…my…son…he saw it.”
Emory started to climb down but paused. He stretched out an arm and grabbed at the hair, stuffing a hank in his pocket. “We should study it when we get back.”
Petra followed him. When she reached the ground, she found Winston, his face aglow with feverish excitement. “Your son saw a Mapinguari? Is he sure?”
“It was running through the scrub. Acarapi followed it, but in his hurry he stepped on a snake. He pulled up and it got away, but he says it was very tall and hairy.”
“Where was he when he saw it?”
“Only a few yards from here. He was picking herbs for the shaman. When the snake bit him, he went home for help.”
They crossed the clearing on the way to the boats. Winston slipped but caught himself. “What’s this? Were you people hungry? There is food in your backpacks.” He picked up a peel. “You shouldn’t have eaten Francisco’s bananas. You will have to pay him.”
A stalk of bananas had been stripped from the tree and dozens of empty peels lay about. Petra shook her head. “It wasn’t us.”
If you could dress up as anything or anyone this Halloween, what or who would it be and why?
Bigfoot—I’d be a walking advertisement for my new book!
Explain why your featured book is a treat to read:
Orion’s Foot is set in the Peruvian Amazon, and depends a lot on my memories of an incredible trip I took there with my son. We were deep in the jungle, surrounded by tapirs, monkeys, macaws and toucans, capybaras, piranhas and caimans, and even pink dolphins. For fun I added lots of cryptids to the story. They are legendary or solitary creatures which inhabit the rainforest and either scare or help the hapless humans they come across. The chullachaqui is a trickster, the dolphin a shapeshifter. There’s a dark mermaid and—central to the plot—the Amazonian version of Bigfoot. Readers will enjoy the intertwining of the mysterious murders, the supernatural creatures, and a nice little romance. A perfect story for Halloween!
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Runs October 1 – 31
Drawing will be held on November 1.
Librarian, anthropologist, Congressional aide, speechwriter—M. S. Spencer has traveled the globe. She holds a BA from Vassar College, a diploma in Arabic Studies from the American University in Cairo, and Masters in Anthropology and in Library Science from the University of Chicago. All of this tends to insinuate itself into her works.
Ms. Spencer has published thirteen romantic suspense or murder mystery novels, with two more on the way. She has two fabulous grown children and an incredible granddaughter. She divides her time between the Gulf Coast of Florida and a tiny village in Maine.
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