Title: Love Power, A Crescent City NOLA Mystery
Author: Martha Reed
Disgraced ex-police detective Jane Byrne is on the run. After surviving a brutal excessive force civil lawsuit that scarred her with PTSD, Jane blows into New Orleans on her Ducati motorcycle looking for a fresh start. The last thing she expects to find is a hate crime serial killer targeting NOLA’s inclusive LGBTQ community.
Thumbing the Ducati’s kill switch, Jane let the bike roll to a stop beneath the decrepit shed tacked onto her new quarters. 7:18 a.m., and she didn’t want the sound of the powerful motorcycle waking the main house. For once, it had skipped the tropical monsoon overnight squall. The rutted driveway was drying out. She noted that the patchy gravel under her tires sounded remarkably like the scratching sound a vinyl record made for a loop or two after the needle dropped before the music began.
Raising both arms, Jane stretched. Damn. I feel good for a change. The rising sun’s warming blush colored the horizon through the bare treetops, her shift at Guardian was done, and she had a skin full of cheap dollar draft beer. Life is good. She was becoming such an after hours’ regular at The Double Deuce Lounge that Adele had even started saving her a corner seat at the bar and feeding her a free breakfast before she headed home. Jane contentedly patted her belly. Never thought I’d be eating white beans and rice for breakfast, but hey, you know what? I’m starting to crave the stuff.
Looping a finger under the pot metal chain around her neck, she pulled out the new house key she wore like a dog tag. The lock on her apartment door was stiff. She had already learned to lean her right shoulder into the door while lifting the knob slightly as she turned the key. The things we do that make a place our home. The deadbolt responded easily once she’d learned the trick of it.
Yesterday morning she had called the number Cal gave her first thing, stopping by after work to see the apartment. It wasn’t much, but in NOLA’s trendy The Bywater district it was all she could afford. She had feared from the sketchy over the phone description that it might be even worse. On first inspection, half dollar sized plaster flakes had littered the pine floor like fallen dogwood petals, but at least the red brick walls looked dry. Jane was still getting used to the fact that New Orleans was always damp.
Leslie Pascoe, her new landlady, had flicked the light switch next to the door. Leslie was a wiry, petite, middle-aged woman who looked like she knew what working hard really meant. She had deeply dark brown eyes, almost black, and her wavy ebony hair was shot through with plenty of silvery threads which she wore in a braid down her back.
Two table lamps had flickered on, throwing sharp triangular shadows against the ceiling. The condenser on an unseen refrigerator had coughed and started to rattle.
“It’s small, but it’s solid.” Leslie crossed the worn floorboards of the single room. “Used to serve as the kitchen for the Big House.” She turned. “No air conditioning back then. Had to keep the heat away from the bedrooms.” She laughed easily. “And if the stovepipe caught fire, you didn’t burn the whole place up.”
Jane surreptitiously dried her palms against her uniform. “Is fire a concern?”
“No, honey.” She laughed again. “We got everything rewired properly when we refinanced. In NOLA, you only need to worry about pestilence and the plumbing. It’s because all of the water has no place else to go.”
“I heard about Hurricane Katrina from a friend of mine who used to live here.”
“That bitch Katrina damn near murdered us.” Leslie ran her finger over a windowsill before delicately dusting her fingers. “Luckily, Bywater missed most of it. We’re three feet above sea level.” Moving to the rear wall, she pushed a simple dotted curtain aside. “This here’s the galley kitchen. The appliances are oldies but goodies, just like me. Plenty of counter space plus there’s extra storage in the pantry. You’ll need to visit the coin laundry to do your washing. I wanted to put a washer in but our sewer line won’t take it. The bedroom and the bath’s upstairs.”
“Leslie? Where y’at?”
Jane flinched at the gravelly male voice growling from the garden.
“We’re in the kitchen, Ken, honey. Come on through.”
A craggy, weather-beaten man blocked the sunlight streaming through the doorway. He was stocky, below average height, about five foot eight, Jane estimated with dark curly hair, thick lips and a pronounced chin. He was wearing an un-tucked Hawaiian shirt loosely over faded jeans. At first glance, she thought he might be packing, but then Jane decided that he was only trying to hide the extra thirty pounds he carried around his waist. Resting his hairy forearms against the brick doorway, he leaned in. “This our new tenant?”
“We’re still working that out. Jane, meet my husband, Ken.”
Straightening, Ken extended his right hand. It looked as wide as a cranberry bog rake with an oddly flat splayed thumb that almost looked like a fifth finger.
“Jane, was it? Nice to meet you. Ken Pascoe.”
An imaginary yellow flare fired off in Jane’s mind as soon as he said his name. There it is again. Why does his name keep pinging me? Was he involved in a criminal investigation I studied? Yet again, she couldn’t immediately pin it down. Her overstrained brain simply refused to process one more thing. She had met so many strangers lately and she had heard so many new names that she had learned to simply file some things away for a private rehash later. She firmly gripped Ken’s hand. “Jane Byrne.”
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Love Power was a 2021 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award winner and a Best Mystery finalist. It earned rave reviews from Dru’s Book Musings, Kristopher Zgorski’s BOLO Books, and the BookLife Prize.
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Martha Reed is a multi-award-winning crime fiction author. Her Crescent City NOLA Mystery, “Love Power” won a 2021 Killer Nashville Silver Falchion Award and features Gigi Pascoe, a transgender sleuth. She is the author of the IPPY Book Award winning John and Sarah Jarad Nantucket Mystery series. Her story, “The Honor Thief” was included in “This Time for Sure,” the Anthony Award nominated 2021 Bouchercon anthology edited by Hank Phillippi Ryan.
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