As seen in the June issue of Uncaged Book Reviews.
Uncaged: Can you tell readers more about your What Doesn’t Kill You world of mysteries?
Sure! I write series mysteries with kick-ass female amateur sleuths. The novels are romantic, funny, and full of everyday magic. I write in trilogies for each protagonist, then I spin off a character—a friend or family member—and start a new trilogy in the same What Doesn’t Kill You world. All readers’ favorite characters continue, but in supporting roles.
Uncaged: Do you write full-time or part-time?
Uncaged: What do you have coming up next that you can tell us about?
With the publication of Knockout (Ava 3) on June 12th, I will have completed my Ava trilogy in the What Doesn’t Kill You World. The book birthday for Searching for Dime Box is August 7th, and it will complete the Michele trilogy, also n the What Doesn’t Kill You world. Right now I am writing a novella, a short story, and three Maggie trilogy novels that will be released in the summer of 2019.
Uncaged: You are an attending author at Wild Deadwood Reads this year. What are you looking forward to the most from this convention?
Meeting readers who love romantic mysteries and talking books. But there’s so much to look forward to. Meeting authors. Enjoying a getaway in a beautiful, historic area. It’s going to be a blast!
Uncaged: Do you read your reviews? What do you take away from them?
I don’t read them, unless my husband tells me I need to. HE reads all of them! I learned early on that the great ones gave me false confidence and the less than great ones gave me false insecurity. My job is to write from my heart. Now, I do read anything readers send to me directly, and I’ve made friends with some of those nice folks, and put them on my “PFH Rock Stars” advance reader teams.
Uncaged: What is one of the nicest things someone has said to you about your books?
I heard from two sisters who bonded and healed old wounds together reading and talking about my Katie trilogy. They both sent emotional emails telling me how much the books meant to them, and how much they loved them.
Uncaged: What is your favorite parts about being an author? What have you found to be the least favorite?
I love speaking to book clubs! Skype, Google Hangouts on the Air, or even in person. I also love that because of my books I was invited to host a radio show called Wine, Women & Writing, a part of the Authors on the Air Global Radio Network. I get to fangirl to my favorite authors. It’s a blast, and you can catch my shows here: https://www.authorsontheair.com/radio-shows
My least favorite thing is all the things I delegate to my assistant Bobbye (everything but writing and interviews!).
Uncaged: What do you like to do when you aren’t writing? Where is one of your favorite places on Earth?
I love to trail ride my BIG draft cross horse Katniss in the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming with my husband Eric on his even bigger draft cross, Feathers. Usually we have two or three dogs tagging along, too. While we love it in our big old cabin, “Snowheresville,” on the east face of the mountains, we only live there in the summer. We have a lovely place in Texas for the winters, which we call Nowheresville. I hold retreats in both places, and I make them available for readers and writers to hold their own retreats by renting them out on Air BnB, here: https://www.airbnb.com/users/show/127571827
Uncaged: What is the hardest part of a book to write? What is the easiest? From start to finish, how long does it take to finish a complete book?
First draft, hands down, is hardest for me. Second draft is easier, and after that I’m sick of the book and ready to hand it off to my copyeditor. It takes me two days to outline a book, a month to write the first draft, and a month to write the second draft. Then add in a month for beta readers and their feedback, a month for the copyeditor to correct the errors, and a month for proofreaders to find the last few boo boos and my assistant to format and upload it, and I have books on the shelves within six months of writing “Once Upon a Time.” But in the meantime, after I finish the second draft, I’ve started another, which I why I can publish three novels and a few shorter works each year.
Uncaged: What would you like to say to fans, and where can they follow you?
Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for buying and reading my books. I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to live this life, doing what I do as a profession. It’s a privilege and honor each time you select one of my books and invest your time reading it.
You can learn more about the books and me on my website and blog at http://pamelafaganhutchins.com. If you’d like to subscribe to my newsletter, I have lots of fun exclusives, discounts, and freebies, like the What Doesn’t Kill You novella I send as soon as you sign up here: https://www.subscribepage.com/PFHSuperstars
Get free exclusives from Pamela at https://www.subscribepage.com/PFHSuperstars, when you sign up for her newsletter.
Pamela’s mysteries have won a lot of awards, from the 2017 Silver Falchion for Best Adult Mystery WINNER (Fighting for Anna) to the 2016 and 2015 WINNERS for USA Best Books Fiction: Cross Genre (Hell to Pay, Heaven to Betsy). With downloads of nearly 2,000,000 for the What Doesn’t Kill You series, readers seem to enjoy her smart, sassy female sleuths.
Pamela Fagan Hutchins
A musical career in the making. A murdered childhood friend. One chance to catch the killer.
Ava dreams of building a better life for her daughter through her island pop songs. Her new temp job leads to a once-in-a-lifetime shot at a record deal, but before she can pack her bags for New York, she discovers a dead body outside her office building. Horrified, Ava recognizes the murdered sex worker as her childhood friend.
The single mother finds herself torn between pursuing her life’s passion or justice for her murdered friend. When another friend is killed, she worries the deaths are connected to a shared trauma that she’s been running from her whole life. After dumping her cop boyfriend, she realizes the pain she keeps locked inside could be sabotaging her shot at lasting love.
Before Ava can move on to a bright future in music, she must confront the truth behind her dark past to catch the murderer or she’ll be next on his kill list.
I’m getting too old for this shit.
The Outlook Calendar warns me it’s Monday, June 22, exactly one month away from my thirty-second birthday. I can’t make ends meet as a singer without this crap temp-agency job, still only getting by with my parents’ help and an occasional boost from public assistance. My nearly-toddler’s sperm-donor father is long gone, along with any hope he’ll ever help out financially. For once I agree with my mom: I need a real job, a grown-up job, and those are few and far between on the island of St. Marcos.
I open a browser and pull up the St. Marcos Source news site, thinking I’ll scan the classifieds for something better. The lead story stops me: LAND PIRATES WAYLAY TOURISTS IN WEST END RAINFOREST. Not again.
How many times do these low-life road thieves have to hijack a carful of day trippers before the Department of Tourism passes out flyers at airport baggage claim? Rule One: no bathing suits except where there’s water. Rule Two: keep your fancy-ass cars on the east end of the island.
I click on my horoscope instead of the classifieds, my talon-like nails forcing my fingers flat against the mouse. Before I can process today’s guidance, I hear the unmistakable sound of support-hose-clad thighs rubbing together, feet padding along toward me in closed-toe ballet flats. That’s McKenna. She runs ABC Temps for her parents, even though she’s way overqualified.
I want to tell her she’s better without the hose and little-girl shoes, but I don’t.
I close my browser. My phone vibrates and I glance down, quick. It’s a text from Collin, the Santa Fe cop, muscle-bound and too Top Gun cute for his own good: Why aren’t you answering me?
Collin is my best friend Katie’s brother. A notorious player whose clothes I seem to rip off every time we’re in the same zip code. He can’t take the hint to let me go. Maybe because we burned up the sheets every weekend for two months, pretending the thing between us was going somewhere. I’d told him then I couldn’t make any promises. He told me he didn’t need any. He should have believed me. I shouldn’t have believed him. Now he thinks he knows me, but he doesn’t. And that’s for the best. Keeping our relationship a secret from Katie is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, and if I break up with him now, she’ll never know.
A shudder runs through me, a terrifying flashback to three officers killed in the line of duty in the last few weeks. Collin’s safe, but I can’t stand worrying some fool is going to shoot him down. I’m black, and I hate cops killing so many black people for no good reason or not enough of one—but Collin’s life matters, too. Yeah, he’s got serious potential to break my heart in more ways than one.
I think what I don’t type: It was a fling. I’m not who you think I am. Get over me.
Instead, I run a finger over my ring, a gift from my parents when I turned sixteen, gold inset with chips of ruby. It’s supposed to give me courage. My mom hoped that would be the courage to remain chaste and pure (she’d already missed that boat) and possibly, someday, fulfill her dream that I become a true “bride of Christ” (she was sorely disappointed on that one, too).
I don’t know why I still wear it, but I do. I give it a few seconds, but no burst of courage overtakes me, so I ignore Collin’s text, again. Like I have the other four. Honestly, I’ve never understood why people treat receiving messages like they’re obligated to respond immediately. Free will, baby. Or, as I like to call it, RNO: response not obligated.
Who am I kidding? Ignoring him is harder than I make it sound. I turn my phone facedown to help me stay strong. I wipe sweat from my brow. It’s stuffy and musty and just plain summer hot. ABC can’t afford AC.
McKenna brushes past me, escorting a woman to the front door. “We don’t keep plants here. Sorry.”
The woman is small and Asian and smells fresh, like lemongrass and lavender. She’s wearing a white T-shirt that says GREEN THUMB across the front. “I understand.” She hands McKenna a card. “In case you change your mind.”
The door opens and closes. McKenna slips the card into her skirt pocket.
She comes back my way, plants herself in front of my desk, her arms crossed over her ample bosom. “Ava girl.” Her calypso accent is thick, and she’s smiling at me like she’s reggae Santa Claus or something. “I sending you to the West End today. Pack up.”
St. Marcos is only twenty-six miles long and seven miles across at its widest point. You can drive from the eastern tip all the way to the west coast in less than an hour, and most of us locals live mid-island. I’ve lived in the States. I’ve commuted half an hour, even an hour to jobs. But it’s different here. Here, we moan and groan if we have to drive ten minutes. On-island—that’s how we describe the state of being present on St. Marcos, with off-island meaning we’re anywhere but here—the West End is half an hour and a different time zone from here.
I chuptz, long and loud, sucking a generous amount of spit through my teeth. I make a show of loading my purse with office supplies.
The thought of the drive almost makes me long to return to the cheesy “bar tour” that my fly-by-night manager booked for me last spring—which is how I came to be gigging in New Mexico and reacquainting myself with Collin, after meeting him at Katie’s wedding a few years back. The tour turned out to be an endless series of swingers’ parties. I got a lot of propositions for threesomes, but no recording-studio producer appeared out of the woodwork offering me a deal. I canned the manager and came home.
Because, yes, this slice of heaven in the Caribbean is my home and the place of my birth. This haven for the brilliant-green iguana, the churring mongoose, the bright-winged macaw, and flowers of every color and description. Of rum, endless coconuts, fragrant mangos, and passion fruit.
It’s also an inbred cesspool of politricks as usual, dog fighting, domestic abuse, and desperation. A refuge for drunkards, layabouts, and fugitives.
I feel a sudden temptation to call the manager and beg him to rebook me, even as a glorified lounge lizard. I won’t, though. The saving grace of being home is that I’m not spending time away from my too-rapidly aging parents and my one-year-old daughter. I have a few on-island gigs lined up this summer, but they’re just the same ole, same ole. Tourists drinking themselves blind on cheap rum while no-count men with more baby mamas than sense make plays for me.
McKenna cuts her eyes at me slow, getting the meaning of my chuptz. “Girl, I mean it. And you’re welcome. I hook you up with one of them EDC companies.”
I brighten. If she just tells me it’s a job as an assistant to a music producer or even a fashion designer, my day is made, even though I know it won’t be. My phone vibrates with another text. Collin again. I feel a tug at my heart. I could be in love with him if I let myself, but I’m not the love type. I’d thrown my I Ching coins that morning and asked only one question: “Will this man lead to pain?” Well, they gave me my answer, and the coins don’t lie.
I’m going to have to talk to him sooner or later, though, since his hint-taking skills are less than optimal. I opt for later.
“Thank you.” I blow McKenna a kiss. “What they do, and what I doing for them?” I sling my bag over my shoulder, already moving, my pulse thrumming with renewed hope.
The office phone rings. I ignore it, but when no one else picks it up after four rings, McKenna’s stare finally breaks me. I pick it up. “ABC Temps.”
A nasally female voice assaults my eardrum. “We’re down from the City for the summer. I must have an assistant. Transfer me to someone who can make this happen ASAP.”
Well, la-di-da. “No problem. Right away, ma’am.” I switch over to my yank speech style without even thinking about it, dropping my island accent and talking with a stuffed-up nose like a continental, which is one of the nicer things we call people from the fifty United States. It’s like breathing to talk local with locals and to yank with yanks. Like how my friend Katie picks up a slow drawl when her Texas friend Emily comes around. Whatever my outer speak, it’s always just me inside my head, a black woman with a white father who’s spent most of her life repressing her island roots like the good little chameleon she is.
I transfer the call to McKenna’s voicemail.
McKenna is doing me a solid with this EDC assignment. EDC stands for Economic Development Commission, a business-incentivizing program offered by our local government in cooperation with the Feds. Translation: the US Virgin Islands are allowed to lure in people who have enough money to start a business here. It’s attractive, with generous tax incentives. It comes with a price, though, more than just the assumption propagated from popular media that rich people only move to the islands to engage in criminal activities and scurrilous tax schemes.
To gain the benefits, the off-islander must establish full residency (difficult), be subject to our Water and Power Authority (notoriously unreliable and gallingly expensive), and hire local (slim pickings). McKenna, knowing this well, is offering me up to them, because I’m local and NYU educated. Even if it is just a theater degree with a minor in classical studies. Lead roles in community theater productions are good for the ego but don’t fatten the purse, and I haven’t discovered how to make money yet from Greek and Roman mythology.
“General office work for a company with it own virtual currency. One that own a lot of other companies.” McKenna says this in a tone of awe.
To me that sounds like Greek. “Virtual current, what?” I say it like “wah.” We have a tendency to drop our ending consonants when we talk in local island accents.
“Virtual currency. It digital money, using blockchain technology. Fast, anonymous, and no regulations. People say it the future.”
“Oh yeah, sure. Blockparty. Technology of the future. And how you know all this, Miss Virgin Island Bill Gates?”
She sniffs. “Stanford MBA. I intern for a company into cryptocurrency.” And I just thought she was overqualified before. “You got no idea what blockchain is, do you?”
She pushes gold wire-rimmed spectacles up her nose. “Blockchain a digital ledger of linked virtual currency transactions, like in a chain. It protect against fraud and the like, because it all encrypted and one link build on another.”
“That clear it right up for me.”
“You a smart girl. You figure it out.”
“Show up on time and you be fine. And pull you top up,” she adds.
She’s the one who booked me last time for a seven a.m. job after the night I’d gigged until three in the morning. What does she expect? I glance down at more brown cleavage than I expected to see. I roll my eyes and hoist the girls. Lime green fabric slips up and over them. Next time I date a rich man, I’m getting a lift. “Jealous much?”
McKenna, wearing a charcoal circle skirt and round-neck white top that covers all her business, hands me a slip of paper with a name, address, and phone number on it. “You gonna find yourself on the wrong end of attention you don’t want, girl, and I’ma remind you ’bout this conversation.”
“You blaming women dem for bad behavior of men?” I play it cool, like I’m joking. But I learned about sexual attention as a plaid-clad innocent in grade school. Just because a Catholic school hires a man doesn’t make him holy, and the same goes for women. Since then, I’ve seen no evidence to change my mind. And I may not be loaded with money, but I have a whole lot of something with very real value. Yeah, it’s currency, and there’s nothing virtual about it.
A chill comes over me, and I freeze for a moment. A memory of Father Jerome and the unspeakable things he did to me during my school days bubbles to the surface, but I bury it deep again, fast, with all the other bad things in my life, like too many pills and too much booze, like finding my lover Guy with his throat slit and a bad man trying to frame me as a Jezebel who murdered Guy for not leaving his wife. Guy—Guy Edwards—was a Virgin Islands senator, and if it weren’t for my friend Katie, I might have spent the rest of my life in jail for a murder I didn’t commit, with too much time to fight off ugly recollections of Father Jerome and his ilk. As it was, my already-not-sterling reputation took a permanent hit. Repression is my friend.
And, no, I don’t let anyone blame women for the bad things men do.
McKenna, not one for lingering, rolls her eyes at me and walks off. Support hose grind together again. I shiver. Save the planet—say no to synthetic undergarments, I think.
But I don’t say it. I’m in a hurry. I have to drive all the way to the West End to meet some blockchain heads.
I veer left, driving my dad’s gas-guzzling beater truck—sorry, Mother Earth, it’s my only option—faster than I should. There’s a maze of potholes (more like field of landmines) on Centerline Road. It’s hard to see them through the lightning storm of windshield cracks that appeared magically a few days after a shoddy island replacement Dad had done recently. Mom’s rosary beads are swinging from the rearview mirror, and I’m feeling more hopeful than I have in donkey years. The reason the EDCs are so attractive here to locals is that they’re the only decent jobs outside of working in tourism, for the government, or at the oil refinery. No, thank you, no, thank you, no, thank you. The refinery has all but closed up now, too, making everything on-island direr, and it was close to desperate before. Temping at a new EDC is usually temp-to-hire, and they always have air conditioning.
I have to land this assignment. I’ll treat it like an audition, which means I should run through my lines. I’ve already found plenty of motivation for my character.
“I Ava, from ABC Temps. Anything you need, we here to help.”
Or I could yank. I try it, watching myself in the rearview mirror. “I’m Ava, from ABC Temps. Anything you need, we’re here to help.”
BAM! My forehead slams into the steering wheel, and all the air is knocked out of me in a whoosh. Sometime later—seconds? minutes?—I realize the truck isn’t moving. What the hell? I put a hand to my face. Warm. Sticky. I look at my fingers. There are more of them than I remember. My hand is like an octopus. A red octopus. I waggle my fingers, and they’re red octopus arms, undulating underwater. I say it aloud. “Undulating underwater.” I like how that sounds and try a few more, making up my own alliteration exercises and mouthing them with exaggerated motions like we had in my theater classes. Sipping cider by the seashore. Taking tea in Tipperary. Gah, I’m tired. I close my eyes and drop my head back.
“You dead?” a dry, quivery voice says from just outside the driver’s-side window. I glance at it. It’s coming from a man with a white afro—now that’s a look, meh son—over wizened skin, his sharp, black eyes fixed on me. “You bleeding.”
Something’s wrong. There’s no window between us. Aha, it’s broken. I peek around the interior. It’s covered in shards of glass. The front windshield is gone, too. And I’d hit the steering wheel—air bags weren’t standard when this truck was built.
“I know you?” the old man says, drawing my attention to his face, which reminds me there’s an electrified cotton ball atop his head.
I squint at him. “Yah,” I say, but then pain clouds my thoughts. “My head hurt, I sorry.”
He nods. “You Gill Butler’s girl. I work with he, years ago. Chappy Nelson.”
“Mr. Nelson. Of course.” Roger “Chappy” Nelson. A down-islander. Barbados? He’d been old even then when Dad brought him on his regular construction crew. Most island men have nicknames, and my mind floats, trying to place the reason for his. Chapped lips. Getting chapped over things. Being chaps with everyone. I’m feeling woozy, a little baziddy.
“This he truck you mash up?”
“Uh-huh.” I mashed up my dad’s truck, and I have no idea how or why. This isn’t good. “What happen?”
“You crash in a pothole.”
Only on St. Marcos. Our potholes are epic. Like vehicle-swallowing sinkholes in the States, except here they’re the result of greed and graft instead of natural disasters. Money changing hands for inferior materials and shoddy workmanship. I should have been watching better where I was going.
I move my head and glass falls in my lap. I know I’m supposed to be somewhere. Directive thinking is painful, but I give it a try, and it works. West End. ABC Temps. A job I can’t bomb. I rest my forehead on the steering wheel, ignoring the immediate sharp pain.
“Ava?” A familiar voice. Also male, but younger, with a Texas accent.
“Huh?” I groan without looking up.
The door opens beside me. Nelson says, “I call the police?”
“No.” My voice cracks. Police mean a job-costing delay, a hassle, an insurance claim, rates going up. Hands grasp me, and I look up. Katie’s husband, Nick, scoops me off the seat and out of the truck.
Nick says, “Thank you, sir. I’ll get her taken care of.”
“You know he?” Nelson asks me.
“Yes. It all good.”
He leaves without further comment, disappearing into a dilapidated building on the side of the road. Trumpet vines grow out of a cracked HEINEKEN sign over its doorway.
Nick sets me down in his own old truck, newer by at least a decade than the one I’d planted nose-first in the pothole.
“You okay for a minute?”
“Yes. Thank you, Nick.”
He returns to my dad’s truck. Nick is all long legs with a lanky but muscular frame, and he’s a fast mover. Cars pass, heads rubbernecking at my misery, and I pretend I don’t see them. He comes back with my canvas shoulder bag and phone. He places them on the floorboard and begins picking glass off of me. I hold very still and let him, even when he pulls a chunk out of my forehead.
After a few minutes working on me, he says, “Want me to take you to the hospital?”
I shake my head, regretting the motion instantly. “No, no. I have to get to my new assignment.”
“For my job. I’m supposed to be on the West End. Now.”
Nick cocks his head, pondering me. I’m sure I look dreadful scary. He, on the other hand, is sexy as ever, something I’m not supposed to notice. Olive skin, wild dark hair, intense eyes, sharp cheekbones, and a distinctive nose. A strong face. Hard not to notice. Hard not to show you appreciate. But Katie’s already forgiven me once for flirting with her man, so I follow the rules.
He grunts, a noncommittal sound. “I’ll take you up to Annalise. If Katie releases you, you can borrow one of our cars to get to work.”
Estate Annalise is the name of the big-ass property he and Katie live on with three kids, six dogs, and his parents. It’s also the name of the teenage slave girl who’s been stuck there in limbo as a jumbie spirit for most of two hundred years. Don’t judge—we buy into voodoo here in the islands. You would, too, if you lived here. It’s as plainly true and hard not to notice as Nick’s sexiness.
He steps away from me, brow furrowed, and pushes his hair back. It stands up a little. Katie says he’s a gypsy by his Hungarian heritage, but his wiry hair isn’t so different from mine. “I’ll call Rashidi. We’ll see what we can do about your truck. Sound okay to you?”
Our mutual friend Rashidi and I are in a good place, so I say, “Irie.” Six months ago, I’d have said no—our breakup was too fresh. Rashidi’s forgiven me for not loving him, but no man takes that easy.
My phone rings. Before I can stop him, Nick picks it up from the floorboard and hands it to me. I all but hold my breath, but he doesn’t look at caller ID. I do. It’s Collin, his brother-in-law, my secret. I take the phone, thinking as hard as I can in my condition. Nick climbs into the driver’s seat. I put the phone to my ear at the same time as I press the button to decline the call and send it straight to voicemail.
“Hello? Hello?” I pause for a few seconds for effect, then put the phone down. “No one’s there.”
But Nick doesn’t hear me. He’s already talking to Rashidi.
This is the first book in the Ava series, but it’s not the first book in the full set – this one is the beginning that focuses on Ava, who was in the previous books. It held up very well considering I had not read the others in the series first. It was easy to get fully immersed in this story, and the author does a great job keeping the reader on their toes, trying to figure out the murderer – and it took me until the end of the book to find out for sure. Ava is a character I enjoyed getting to know although the one thing that threw me a bit is how she slips from island dialect and slang back to “Yank” speech. Personally, I wasn’t a fan of the island slang.
The story moves at a good pace, and when Ava’s friend is one of the victims, she vows she’s going to get answers. This book was a nice introduction to this author for me, and she’s definitely on my radar now. Reviewed by Cyrene