Ten years ago, I helped sell the company that had been my long-time employer. When the sale was done, I had two ‘sensible’ offers that would have kept me in the corporate world. To make a long story short, neither option appealed.
There was something else I wanted to do, something that had been on my mind for a couple of decades: I wanted to see if I could write fiction.
Not the Great American Novel. Not poetry. Not some thinly disguised autobiographical cathartic work. I wanted to see if I could tell a rousing good story using believable characters people would root for. I wanted to write stories with satisfying conclusions that sprinkled enough clues about the outcome throughout the story to make a reader say, ‘why didn’t I see that coming?’ Oh, and I wanted to write stuff that people would actually go out and buy. In short, I wanted to write mysteries, suspense, and thrillers.
Since then, I’ve published ten books: Murder Imperfect, The Accidental Spy , Deal Killer, The Garden Club Gang, A Murder in the Garden Club, Deadly Deeds, A Murder at the Flower Show, Murder in Negative Space and Murder for a Worthy Cause. All are available in both print and Kindle editions at Amazon.com and in book stores . My latest, How to Murder Your Contractor, has just been published. And, I’m working on others. Here’s a synopsis of my ten titles:
How to Murder Your Contractor
“Joey thought building my house was his ticket to unearned riches. He was wrong. Unforgivably wrong. Where is Joey now? Let’s just say that I was Joey’s final customer. I can make that statement with authority.”
Anne Evans Carlton is a woman with a simple goal: to serve Thanksgiving dinner in the ‘retirement dream home’ she is building with her husband, Matt. All that stands in her way is Joey McCoy: possibly the worst contractor ever to be entrusted with the building of a new house.
How to Murder Your Contractor is the story of a battle of wits between Anne and Joey. Joey’s goal is simple: stretch the job out and keep inventing ‘up-charges’. But Joey hasn’t planned on Anne’s determination or Matt’s legal prowess. Neither has he taken into account Anne’s unusual circle of friends. They’re multi-day Jeopardy winners, Master Gardeners, and equestrian jumping champions. They bring an arsenal of ideas – many of them deadly – to the task of either getting Joey to do his job right, or to get Joey out of the way once and for all.
A Murder at the Flower Show
What happens when the head of a major Boston cultural institution turns out to be a con man… and dead? Just hours after the Northeast Garden and Flower Show’s opening night gala, St. John Grainger-Elliot, head of the venerable New England Botanical Society, is found brutally murdered. For newly minted Lieutenant Victoria Lee it’s a high-profile investigation that could either accelerate or derail her meteoric career – and there are higher-ups who resent the promotion of a 30-year-old woman.
Working with former partner John Flynn, and young, computer-savvy Detective Jason Alvarez, Lee learns that Grainger-Elliot was not what he claimed to be. He was a con man, and funds for his high-profile signature project, ‘The Gardens at Government Center’ are either missing or were never raised. Who killed him? A Society employee or trustee? A flower show exhibitor? A business partner whose reputation he ruined? And, was Grainger-Elliot’s wife a dupe or an accomplice? Horticulture and high tech will solve the crime.
A Murder at the Flower Show is a twisting, fast-paced story that goes behind the scenes into the not-so-genteel world of flowers and money.
Murder in Negative Space
Valentina Zhukova is a glamorous, globetrotting floral designer; the “Queen of Negative Space” and “Vladimir Putin’s favorite flower arranger”. But in the hours before the opening of the prestigious International Floral Design Alliance conference in Boston, someone stabbed her and then hung her body from a massive floral design.
Six weeks after the events of ‘A Murder at the Flower Show’, Lieutenant Victoria Lee and young, computer-savvy Detective Jason Alvarez are again plunged into a world where flowers and horticulture can be grounds for homicide. They quickly learn that Zhukova was both more and less than the woman she seemed. The proud granddaughter of a World War II hero, she was also an ardent nationalist who toed the Kremlin line, and someone who relished inflicting on those around her.
Who killed Zhukova? With an international cast of suspects, Lee and Alvarez – aided by suburban garden club president Liz Phillips – find few who knew her will mourn her death. Murder in Negative Space takes you into a world where ‘amateur’ designers are deadly serious about their work.
The essence of suspense is not ‘whodunit’ but, rather, ‘are they going to get away with it?’ Murder Imperfect is without question a work of suspense. In the opening paragraph, the protagonist, Kat writes, “You can call this a confession if you must” and then says that she murdered her husband in cold blood. But then she immediately withdraws the word ‘confession’ because she has neither guilt nor remorse. And she says, “where I am right now is of no importance to this story”. So, did she get away with it or is this in fact a confession told to some unknown law enforcement person? It will be a cat-and-mouse game all through the book.
If you’re looking for a sweet, innocent heroine, Kat is definitely not for you. But she’ll grow on you as you hear her story. She’s had some tough breaks in her life and her late husband was no saint. But love her or hate her, you’ll find her compelling.
Murder Imperfect moves a torrid pace, aided by Kat’s irreverent and sharp-tongued narrative. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it. You can get more details and read the opening chapter here. You can purchase a copy here or here. You can see an interview about the book here.
The Garden Club Gang and Deadly Deeds
Then, there’s The Garden Club Gang. The members of the ‘gang’ are four women, aged 51 to 71, who are at a turning point in their lives. When one of the women proposes that they steal the daily gate from a New England fair, they all agree, each for their own reasons.
The robbery is successful, but getting away with the perfect crime is just the beginning of their problems. When they count the money, there’s far more that there should be. In a matter of hours, the four women find themselves in a battle of wits with the local and state police, a determined insurance investigator and the criminals who were using the fair to launder money. Instead of a lark, they’re in danger, and dependent upon their own resources to outwit both the law and the crooks determined to find the money and silence those who stole it.
The Garden Club Gang offers four nuanced portraits of interesting women with all-too-credible motives for doing highly unladylike things. If it sounds like a ‘cozy’, then be prepared for a cozy with quite a kick. The characters are memorable, the action is non-stop and the plot twists until the final page. You can read the opening chapters here. The book is available in print and Kindle formats. You can purchase a copy here or here. If you have half an hour to spend, you can see an interview about the book here.
Within days after the publication of The Garden Club Gang, I was being asked, “What are ‘the ladies’ going to do next?” It took two years to come up with a plot worthy of ‘the Gang’, but here it is: Deadly Deeds.
Four months after the events of The Garden Club Gang; Paula, Eleanor, Alice and Jean go undercover at a car dealership where investigator Samantha Ayers is convinced that insurance fraud is taking place. In the opening pages of the book, that fraud is exposed in a spectacular fashion. Their success leads the Gang to agree to investigate the death of Cecelia Davis, a very elderly member of the Hardington Garden Club in a high-end nursing home in a nearby community. They’re not even certain a crime has been committed: at 93, Cecelia is off the actuarial charts. But they hear things at the woman’s wake that sound intriguing. And so they go to work.
But, as they do, the patriarch of Pokrovsky Motors is also making his own plans and it includes retribution against the the Gang. Even as ‘the ladies’ are learning first-hand about ‘asset protection’ firms and nursing home economics, ‘Smilin’ Al’ Pokrovsky is discovering the identities of the four women who infiltrated his dealership. The result is a twisting plot that is as suspenseful as it is a great mystery. You can order Deadly Deeds online in print or Kindle formats or find it in bookstores.
The Accidental Spy
Here’s its genesis: my ‘day job’ was in technology and the field is rife with historical questions where the answers are, at best, murky. One such question is why the Soviet Union was always so far behind the U.S. in microelectronics. The question may seem quaint today but, during the cold war, computer chips – however rudimentary – were the difference in the accuracy of missiles, among other things.
Thus was born the idea for The Accidental Spy. The plot: It’s 1967 and Susan Delaney is your carefree airline stewardess with aspirations that go no higher than working her way up to serving first class on flights to Paris, and meeting Mister Right. Then, one day she accepts fifty dollars to escort a misplaced suitcase to its owner. Before she knows what’s happened, she’s part of a cross-country chase by the KGB to get hold of the suitcase and its contents. Her allies are a handsome Mossad agent named Joe Klein and a grandmotherly El-Al air marshal named Sadie whose knitting bag contains a lethal arsenal.
What’s in the suitcase? Joe says it’s the plans for and samples of the world’s first microprocessor, a device thought to be years away from reality. Engineers at IBM and a California semiconductor company agree that it’s the real thing. Everyone – including the Mafia and a shadowy anti-Castro group – wants to buy it. The KGB and the East Germans want to steal it. To be part of history – and to hold onto Mister Right – all Susan has to do is keep herself (and Joe Klein) alive. But as readers, we also know one other important thing: that in 2011, a body has been discovered in Susan’s back yard. We know the body has been there since the 1960s. What we don’t know is whose body it is.
Although written as a work of romantic suspense, The Accidental Spy is carefully researched and historically accurate. The crux of the story – the ‘McGuffin’ as Alfred Hitchcock would have put it – is that all the pieces were in place in 1967 to create a working microprocessor (a device that would not make its appearance until 1971). The Accidental Spy posits that an effort was made to sell the technology to the Soviets, who rejected it only to discover that American companies had authenticated the device and were bidding for rights to it.
The Hardington Mysteries
The Hardington mysteries are about three things. The first is Liz Phillips, fifty-something suburban matron with a hole in her life where her absent family ought to be. The second is John Flynn, retired Boston detective who has gone to work for a suburban police department where, to put it mildly, he is overqualified. The third thing is the town. You won’t find Hardington, Massachusetts on a map, but you’ve heard of towns like it. It’s a quaint exurb of Boston where ‘starter castles’ are replacing the tract houses from the fifties and appearances are everything.
The series starts with A Murder in the Garden Club. Liz finds the body of close friend Sally Kahn at the bottom of her basement stairs. It takes Liz just ten minutes to determine it wasn’t an accident. It takes a lot longer than that for her to convince John Flynn that Hardington has its first murder in a decade. By the time their investigation is over, the trail will have wound through email inboxes and wireless Internet routers, hazardous waste disposal and the economics of tearing down houses to build ‘McMansions’. Their search will also take them through an emotional landscape of adultery and the simmering resentment between ‘townies’ and the new-money affluent. You can read more about it here, or buy it here or here.
Is it a cozy? If you mean, does it emphasize character development and plot equally, is the violence off-screen, and do you want to see these two characters again, then the answer is, yes, it’s a cozy. But if you mean, does it feature a nosy, dithering amateur female sleuth with a weight problem and a bumbling detective who can’t see a clue to save his life, then the answer is a resounding ‘no’. Further, if cozies are a ‘Red States’ genre, then A Murder in the Garden Club has some decided ‘Blue States’ overtones. A key one is that there’s a definite attraction between Liz and Detective Flynn. It may not be acted on, but it’s there.
In Murder for a Worthy Cause, the cast and crew of the hit TV show, Ultimate House Makeover, come to Hardington to build a home for a needy family. But on the morning work is to begin on the project, the body of a town selectman is found at the site.
Detective John Flynn doesn’t lack for suspects or clues: cameras recorded the previous evening’s party where two men threatened Terhune and a woman showed her displeasure with him in spectacular fashion. And, as a selectman, Terhune had enemies.
Meanwhile, Liz Phillips thinks her only role is to keep volunteers on the project busy. But the more she sees and hears as she works on the project, the more she understands that she may hold the key to solving the murder. You can read more about the book here, and buy it here.
Think ‘investment banking’ and your mind immediately conjures up multi-billion-dollar deals done on private jets over Champagne and caviar. That may be the way it works on TV and in the movies, but the real world is considerably more prosaic. An agreement is done, and then a cadre of ‘deal grunts’ move in to perform due diligence and put together a contract.
In ‘Deal Killer’, one of those deal grunts is Lynn Kowalchuk, a junior investment banker, who has been sent to Nashua, New Hampshire for two weeks to work on closing the acquisition of a failing company by its larger competitor. What Lynn doesn’t know is that someone inside that failing company has figured out a way to illegally siphon off several million dollars of the sale proceeds. All he needs is complacency and indifference on the part of the bankers, attorneys and accountants working on the closing. Lynn is his complication: she takes every job seriously, even small ones like this.
When Lynn’s car is run off the road one evening, her nagging feeling that ‘something isn’t right’ turns into a full-blown search for the ‘deal killer’ and its perpetrator. What follows is tale of suspense, leavened with intelligence plus a dash of romance and even humor. Could something like this happen? I’d be very surprised if it hasn’t.
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The opening chapters of these manuscripts, as well as backgrounds to the stories and links to plot summaries, are on this website and can be found by using the the navigation bar at the top of the page. I always enjoy hearing from readers, so please feel free to drop me an email (n_h_sanders <at> yahoo <dot> com) with your comments.
Many thanks for visiting. I’d love to turn you into a fan!
Neal H. Sanders
26 Pine Street, Medfield, MA 02052