Title: The Mystery at Mount Forest Island
Author: Pat Camalliere
Genre: Historical Mystery, Amateur Sleuth, Paranormal
Jessica Fletcher meets the Sopranos in this third book in the Cora Tozzi historical mystery series.
A tale of crime, deceit, and love set in the forests of Lemont, Illinois in Chicago’s southwest suburbs. The story of a woman whose life and the lives of her children are fundamentally affected by her family’s involvement in organized crime.
Devastated by an accident that leaves her totally blind, Valerie has mastered the activities of daily life to function in a world of darkness, but lacks the confidence she will need to lead the independent life she desires with her young daughter. Tragic mysteries from her youth stand in her way, making her a bitter, friendless woman.
She sets out to search for the mother who deserted her and the killer of her beloved uncle with the help of Cora and Cisco Tozzi, Frannie Berkowitz, and Potawatomi friend Billy Nokoy. But Billy has problems of his own. Struggling to understand a sudden paranormal phenomenon, he discovers a clubhouse, farm, and horseman in the woods that no one else can see. Then Cora and Frannie uncover shocking threads that connect Valerie’s mother, Jemma, to the same farm and to the Chicago Mob. Before the facts can be put together, Billy sees a threatening man stalking Valerie, leading them all into a world of organized crime and confrontations with the supernatural world, culminating in disaster in the Palos Forest Preserves.
People who knew Valerie Pawlik might say she was a loner, but she had never felt as lonely as she did now.
Seated in an arm chair, leather or perhaps a high-quality synthetic, she supposed, she ran her fingers over the soft surface. If she remembered correctly, it was bright turquoise, or maybe soft orange or gray, the Lemont Public Library’s color scheme. Sunlight from a nearby window warmed her. Surrounding sounds seemed loud to her now: a page being flipped, a scratching pencil, a clearing throat. Someone walked nearby, probably looking over the selections on the fiction shelves behind her. An overweight adult woman, she thought, from the heavy breathing and spaced footsteps. The woman had probably stared at Corky when she passed by, not expecting to see a dog here. Valerie placed a hand on the sleek fur, then rested her arm in her lap.
Alone and lonely were not the same thing: she knew that now!
She couldn’t go home—it was Sally’s home really—before she thought through what Father McGrath had proposed. She had to make a decision. Better to be alone in a public place than that stifling atmosphere. So she had the Dial-a-Ride driver take her to the library, despite the fact he would not be available later. She patted the pocket that contained her cell phone. After she made her decision, she’d call a cab.
She had the basics down now: how to dress, feed herself, move confidently with her guide dog or a cane. Father McGrath was helping her prepare for the rest of her life. She couldn’t leach off Sally and Grace forever, didn’t want to, even if she felt welcome there. She was too independent—well, her personality was independent, even if her situation wasn’t. But above all she had to consider Molly.
Father McGrath suggested she get help from Cora, of all people! Cora, who had ordered Valerie out of her home and told her not to return. The argument that followed provoked Valerie to seek revenge, and then there was the accident. How could she go to Cora now with her hand out, especially about such a private matter?
Father’s words played over and over: “None of this is going to be easy. Think of it as practice for a life that won’t be easy. Cora has the skills and experience you need to solve the mysteries that threaten your future. She’s also a caring and forgiving sort. Settle the argument, rekindle your friendship.”
“But we were never friends,” Valerie had said. “We were oil and water from the start.”
He had replied, “That doesn’t change the advice. You were the antagonist in the relationship, remember? That’s another thing you need to deal with. Cora’s the right person, and I advise you to have at it.”
Father McGrath was her only friend at the moment. She had always thought friends unnecessary, but he had pointed out more than once that her situation was different now. With the absence of dependable family, she needed friends. He wouldn’t always be there.
Thinking about it now, her hands shook and she gripped her knees in panic. Corky stood and put her head in Valerie’s lap, nudging, sensing her mistress’s distress.
She stroked the silky head and gradually calmed.
Where was the proud, confident person she used to be? She must reawaken that person. She had to—her future depended on it. She’d try Cora, and if that didn’t work, well, then she had to try something else.
She reached for her phone. She’d give Father permission to call Cora and explain. Would Cora even agree to talk to her? She’d soon find out.
She could do this! What else could she do?
Billy Nokoy didn’t try to fool himself. He was what he was, and in the opinion of most people, he was a loser, like his father.
Billy grew up spending long hours alone at home, waiting up to help his single-parent father to bed after long hours of janitorial work and then the local watering hole. Often his father, who dearly loved his son, came home ashamed and sobbing that he could not be a better parent, as his son deserved so much more than he was able to give. Billy often feared his life would be no better than his father’s.
Today he sat at one of the library’s public computers, sliding the mouse aimlessly on the mouse pad, following the cursor with his eyes on the screen, oblivious to everything around him.
His friend Nick had said, “I had a crazy notion you ended the matter by releasing a bolt of lightning at him.”
“What do you mean?” Billy had asked.
Nick explained that everyone present told a different story. Nick’s version was that Billy sent a visible bolt of energy that pinned the man to a tree.
“Of course that couldn’t have happened,” Nick said, laughing. “There was lightning and a storm.”
Billy had gone still, realizing Nick’s story was similar to what he remembered himself. Having someone confirm his impression made it more believable. He hadn’t been able to shake the wild idea.
As he waited for Google to launch, he caught motion with his peripheral vision and glanced away from the screen. An attractive woman wearing dark glasses was leaving the library, accompanied by a golden retriever. He realized the woman was blind and was impressed by how confidently she moved through the library.
She walked past an unusually tall, muscular-looking man who stood viewing the New Book racks. The man turned to watch her leave; then he glanced around before going quickly out the door without any check-outs. He looked older than his first impression.
Billy returned to his thoughts. If only he could get the right break, he thought. But he was the guy who never got the breaks, never got the job, never got the girl. His latest venture, the one that brought him to Lemont, had proved it once again, ending in catastrophe like everything else he touched.
An elderly woman at the computer next to Billy waved to the reference librarian. “What’s wrong with this thing? Is it something I’m doing? The screen keeps going black.”
The librarian leaned over her and clicked for a while, then shook her head. “I guess you’ll have to move to another computer. I’ll get our tech guy to look at it,” she said.
“The same thing happened at the other one,” the woman said, pointing to the end of the table.
“Yes, that is odd,” the librarian said, rubbing her mouth with a forefinger.
It seemed he wasn’t the only loser in here today. Some people just weren’t meant for computers.
What if what Nick said was true, if he had suddenly developed an unexplainable power? Who might help him? His co-workers at Office Max or casual friends at bars? No. He imagined what they would think if he broached the subject. That he was a crazy Indian, probably.
Cora, though. She had been there when it happened. She could tell him what she saw that day and give him an opinion. She had hinted once about having a supernatural experience, so she might take him seriously.
He logged out, pushed himself up from his chair and reached for his hoodie. Yes, he would get Cora’s advice.
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Why is your featured book a must-read?
True to the historical fiction genre, "The Mystery at Mount Forest Island" contains an abundance of historical information and a well conceived storyline. Loads of details about this Northeastern Illinois settings geographic features are intertwined with local lore that includes organized crime and paranormal activities. With a mystery story that spans generations, pristine character development, and in-depth detective work this book never slows down. Shortly into the story, you feel you know every character almost on a personal level. I particularly like the way Pat Camalliere crafts a group effort to solve the mystery. Everyone contributes based on their personal strengths and skillset. It is a group effort gathering & digging out facts and then piecing them together for a most interesting solution. Did I mention paranormal? This is a well written easy read that will delight anyone.
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Pat Camalliere is the author of the popular, five-star-rated Cora Tozzi Historical Mystery Series. She lives with her husband in Lemont, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. She serves on the boards of the Lemont Historical Society and Lemont Public Library District and is a member of the Chicago Writers Association, Sisters in Crime, and Society of Midland Authors. She speaks locally on a variety of topics and writes a blog that features unique history stories. Visit her at patcamallierebooks.com.
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Website and blog: www.patcamallierebooks.com