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  • Written by P. J. Alderman
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A Port Chatham Mystery

Written by P. J. AldermanAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by P. J. Alderman

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List Price: $7.99

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On Sale: February 15, 2011
Pages: 320 | ISBN: 978-0-553-90801-5
Published by : Bantam Bantam Dell
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

RITA-nominated author P. J. Alderman’s delightful new mystery series blends haunting ghosts with hunting criminals as therapist Jordan Marsh dives deep into the past to solve a modern murder.
 
A recent transplant to Washington State’s charming seaside town of Port Chatham, Jordan is still getting used to sharing her slightly run-down but historic lodging with ghosts. As if living with the long-deceased isn’t enough of a challenge, she’s just found a corpse: The town’s notorious womanizer Holt Stillwell is lying on the beach with a bullet in his head.

Before Jordan can reel in a suspect, another victim surfaces. And this one isn’t taking murder lying down. Holt’s ancestor Michael Seavey, the Pacific Northwest’s most infamous shanghaier, has materialized in Jordan’s house, seeking to solve his own death in a suspicious shipwreck in 1893. With two murders to solve and a killer on the loose, Jordan faces yet another equally terrifying prospect: her growing attraction to the very alive and criminally attractive pub owner Jase Cunningham.

Excerpt

Chapter 1

Dungeness Spit, Admiralty Inlet, Washington

July, present day

Call me crazy, to use an imprecise term," Jordan Marsh huffed as she trudged down the beach, "but you know when your surgeon cleared you to start physical therapy? I don't think she had in mind a ten-mile forced march through sand."

"Is that a whine I'm detecting in your voice?" Darcy Moran's pace showed no sign of moderating. As she was built like a modern-day Valkyrie with the inseam of a pro basketball player, Jordan had to take three steps to Darcy's two.

They'd planned the hike the night before while comfortably ensconced at their favorite pub, listening to live jazz. Darcy had waxed poetic about the trek along the west side of Dungeness Spit. She'd made it sound as if Jordan would emerge from the experience renewed in both body and spirit.

Five miles in length, the spit--a driftwood-strewn, narrow stretch of windswept sand and intrepid beach flora--hooked away from the northern edge of the Olympic Peninsula, into the busy shipping lanes of Admiralty Inlet. Their destination was the area's oldest lighthouse, built in 1857. They had the hike to themselves; Jordan hadn't seen another soul since they'd left the parking lot.

The lack of fellow enthusiasts should have been a sign.

"We have just three hours to reach the lighthouse and make the return trip before the tide comes back in," Darcy pointed out as she attacked the beach with militaristic zeal. Unlike Jordan, she'd dressed practically for the day in a silk turtleneck and Gore-Tex jacket, jeans, and rugged hiking boots. "Do you want to crawl over those stacks of logs, or stroll through this nice, soft sand?"

"Stroll?"

"Besides," Darcy continued, showing no sign she'd caught Jordan's sarcasm, "I thought you said you wanted to lose a few pounds."

"Well, sure, but I hadn't envisioned losing them all in one day."

Their hike was along a gently sloping beach that--by mile two--had threatened to permanently shorten Jordan's uphill leg. She already had blisters, and her calf muscles were screaming. Since mile three, she'd had a clear vision of tomorrow's front-page newspaper headline:

Port Chatham Resident Rescued from Certain Death

Jordan Marsh, the most recent owner of historic Longren House, was found unconscious this morning on Dungeness Spit. She was said to be suffering from advanced hypothermia.

Neighbors expressed shock, though some privately admitted she probably deserved to suffer, since she'd been responsible for the recent wounding of their beloved police chief, Darcy Moran . . .

"This is payback, isn't it?" Jordan demanded. "You still blame me. Not, mind you, that I blame you for blaming me--I blame me."

Darcy stopped, hands planted on her hips. "You had no way of knowing that the man had violent tendencies. A guy who has that many screws loose--"

"Another phrase reviled by the psychiatric community . . ."

"--whatever. A narcissistic stalker can turn on you in the blink of an eye."

"Still, as a psychologist I should've recognized the signs. I didn't, and you paid the price." Jordan doubted many people could claim the distinction--only a few days after arriving in town--of causing the near-mortal shooting of a police chief. One, no less, who had gone out of her way to make Jordan feel welcome, offering both friendship and support.

Darcy heaved a sigh. "Look, I knew the guy was acting weird as hell, but even with all my law enforcement training, I didn't put it together, either. I see no reason why you should shoulder all the blame."

"Hmph." Jordan waved off a pesky black fly suicidally attracted to the fragrance of her shampoo. "So explain to me again why we're out here? We could have hiked North Beach, or taken any number of nice walks closer to town. Locations," she emphasized, "that don't require calling out a medevac helicopter when you collapse at my feet."

Darcy shrugged and continued down the beach. "Chalk it up to having to play the invalid for the last several weeks. I wanted to get out of town, and I like to set challenging personal goals."

"Right." Jordan shook her head and slogged through more sand.

A hundred yards out, a seagull dipped in and out of a layer of fog floating just above the water's surface. They were surrounded by three mountain ranges--the rugged peaks of the Olympics to the southwest, the British Columbia Coastal Range to the north, and to the east, the more gently formed, tree-covered Cascades, over which towered Mount Baker's giant snow-covered cone.

Other than the occasional cry of an eagle perched on a piece of driftwood, the only sound was of the waves lapping soporifically against the sand. Jordan indulged in a moment's fantasy of lying down in the sun and taking a nice, long nap.

Tragically, Darcy's voice intruded. "A hike such as this requires discipline, planning, and timing." She was once again warming to her favorite subject since The Incident: extreme goal-setting plus rigid control of every minute of every day. Jordan figured Darcy would eventually adjust, but it was a toss-up whether Jordan would expire before that blessed day arrived. "Discipline," Darcy continued in a lecturing tone, "that is sadly lacking in your own life."

"Did I mention that I read an article just the other day about the dangers of Americans' obsession with discipline? Europeans focus on living life to the fullest, giving greater priority to such indulgences as relaxation and fine foods and wines. Go figure, but they have longer life spans than we do."

Darcy's only response was a loud snort.

"Besides which," Jordan persisted, "Malachi and I walk every day."

"Yeah, you walk to that French restaurant three blocks over to have breakfast."

"Hey. Don't knock it--that restaurant has great espresso and The New York Times. Neither of us sees the point in extreme exercise."

"As far as I can tell, that mutt of yours doesn't see the point in anything except a nap in the sun."

Precisely. Smart dog.

As Darcy picked up the pace, Jordan lagged farther behind. "And do not malign Malachi," she said in a raised voice. "He's been a great comfort to me."

The stray dog had adopted her immediately upon her arrival, supporting her during a less-than-smooth transition. Within days, she'd had to deal with a century-old murder, an embittered LAPD detective intent on arresting her for killing her husband, and, well, other things. Things she'd given herself permission to deny.

Catching movement out of the corner of her eye, she turned, her footsteps faltering. A few yards offshore, a man rose up from the ocean, wearing a loosely fitted, rubberized gray suit that draped in folds over his rugged build. Seawater poured off him as he sloshed through the waves and onto the beach, removing a metal, helmetlike mask. In his other hand, he held an ornately decorated tin box.

He grinned, revealing crooked teeth. "Nice day for a dive!"

"I guess." Jordan was perplexed. "Isn't the water awfully cold around here, though?"

"Not if you don't stay down long," he replied cheerfully. Nodding politely, he stomped down the beach in his flippers, heading toward the peninsula.

"Hey," Darcy called out, looking irritated as she turned back. "Make more of an effort, will you?"

"I was just . . ." Jordan's gaze slid from the retreating figure of the diver to Darcy, who gave no indication that she'd seen him. "Never mind." Jordan broke into a jog.

"So how's it going with the ghosts?" Darcy asked uncannily as Jordan caught up.

"I don't want to talk about them." Or the fact that seeing them made her question her own sanity.

So far, Jordan hadn't discovered anyone else who could see and converse with both communities in Port Chatham--one human, the other spectral. And neither community seemed to be overly concerned that she possessed such "special powers."

"Are Hattie and Charlotte still giving you trouble?"

"Assuming they exist, yes."

That earned her an assessing glance. "I thought we were beyond this. You're regressing."

"I'm not regressing," Jordan objected grimly. "I've just given myself permission to deny that they necessarily exist."

"Uh-huh." Darcy shook her head. "You know I'd kill to be in your shoes. It's damn hard to do my job well when I can't see or communicate with half the town's residents."

Jordan did a mental eye roll. Her corporeal friends, whose powers of perception only included a general sense of the ghosts' presence, professed to be extremely envious of Jordan's abilities, not understanding the unique challenge they presented. After all, outside of walking up and rudely poking the person in question to see whether he or she was solid, she had no surefire method of differentiating ghosts from humans.

"It's bad enough that I sleep in a bedroom where a century-old murder occurred," she grumbled. "I didn't sign up for having permanent roommates. I solved Hattie's murder; therefore, it's only reasonable to expect that they all politely vacate the premises."

" 'All' " Darcy looked intrigued. "Have more shown up?"

"Just Frank, so far," Jordan replied, referring to the ghost of Frank Lewis, the man who had hanged for Hattie's murder in 1890. "He and Hattie are attempting to requite their unrequited, century-old love." Jordan picked her way around a gelatinous substance on the sand that looked like it might be the remains of a jellyfish. "I walk into a room, and they're cooing at each other. I turn a corner, and they're in a clinch."

Darcy shot her a wary glance. "You haven't been reading romance novels, have you?"

"Not that I couldn't use the escapism right now, but no. 'Clinch' just seems appropriate when describing the mating habits of ghosts."

"So we're talking spectral sex?" Darcy grinned. "Cool."

"Not cool," Jordan insisted. "What about Charlotte? She's too young and impressionable to be exposed to such things."

"We are talking about the ghost who was a prostitute before she died in the 1890s, right? I suspect Charlotte knows more about sex than you do."

"Well, it's not the 1890s anymore. And I've got a home renovation to manage--I don't have the time to chaperone an impressionable young ghost."

Darcy shook her head and picked up the pace again. "I heard Tom wants to talk to you about the work on the house."

Tom Greeley, one of Port Chatham's amateur historians, specialized in custom paintwork for historic homes. He'd been gracious enough to volunteer to help Jordan come up with a restoration plan for Longren House. After days of crawling around the attic and the basement, he'd left a hastily scribbled note requesting a meeting with her. The note was still lying on the kitchen table, intimidating her.

Okay, so her initial fantasy of slap-on-some-paint-and-new-wallpaper had died a quiet death around the time she'd discovered that the gorgeous wisteria vine on the wall of the library had grown straight through the siding and into the attic. But dammit, she loved Longren House. It represented the one truly impulsive decision she'd ever made. Well, maybe not the only impulsive decision--that was stretching the truth a bit. But she'd taken one look at the house and fallen head over heels, instantly envisioning the cozy home she'd never had. She'd be damned if she'd let a few repairs ruin that dream.

And frankly, it was easier to hold on to the dream if she didn't know the full extent of the necessary repairs. In fact, she was considering submitting an article to a prestigious psychology journal, describing the underrated benefits of a well-orchestrated strategy of personal denial. Life really was wonderful if one simply refused to acknowledge the impending train wrecks.

"Earth to Jordan? Hello?"

She realized Darcy was still waiting for her response. "Tom probably just wants to talk to me about bidding out the work," she said, hoping for reassurance.

"I doubt it. We can refer you to the right people."

"But--"

"This isn't L.A., it's a small town. For most jobs, there will only be one or two people who do that type of work. We know who you can trust, and who you can't." Darcy stopped abruptly, causing Jordan to plow into her. "Okay. See?" She pointed to a tiny white speck in the distance. "That's New Dungeness Lighthouse."

Jordan righted herself and squinted at the landscape beyond the end of Darcy's finger. "Clear down there? We still have that far to go?"

"It's only another mile or so. Piece of cake."

Jordan groaned. "We could turn around right now, head back to the pub, and place our order for a truly sublime Shiraz." Served up by an equally sublime pub owner, although she was in denial about him as well. "I don't care whether we tour the lighthouse--we could come back another day."

She could've sworn Darcy looked apologetic. "There's a rumor the lighthouse is haunted," Darcy admitted, "and several of us thought you might be able to confirm whether it is."

Jordan narrowed her gaze. "You're using me as some sort of ghost detector?"

"Well, yeah. We started talking about it last night after you and Malachi left the pub, and one thing led to another. We've got a pool going on whether you'll see the wife of the original lighthouse keeper, who is rumored to haunt the grounds. The wife, not the lighthouse keeper," Darcy clarified. "After all, you're in a unique position to confirm the veracity of all those ghost stories we've heard over the years--"

"Oh. My. God." Jordan stared past Darcy's shoulder.

"Look," Darcy said, sounding uncomfortable. "If it bothers you that much--"

"No, no!" Jordan tugged on her sleeve to turn her toward the surf. "That's not what I think it is, is it? Is it?"

Darcy peered in the direction Jordan pointed. "Son of a bitch!" Jogging over, she knelt next to a black, rubber-encased body floating facedown in the shallows.

When Jordan started to follow, Darcy put up a hand. "Stay back." She felt for a pulse, then turned over the body, pulling back the hood of the dry suit.

Jordan pressed fingers against her mouth. She would have recognized that bleached-blond buzz cut anywhere. "That's . . ."

"Yeah."

Holt Stillwell. Port Chatham's most notorious womanizer, descended from a long line of infamous criminals, not the least of whom was the Pacific Northwest's most ruthless shanghaier of the late nineteenth century, Michael Seavey.

Holt's eyes were closed, and his skin had a weirdly translucent pallor.

He also had a bullet hole in the center of his forehead.
P. J. Alderman

About P. J. Alderman

P. J. Alderman - Ghost Ship
P. J. Alderman has lived in the Pacific Northwest for more than twenty-five years. She is the author of A Killing Tide, a RITA finalist for Best First Book, as well as Phantom River. After spending several years on Oregon’s North Coast, she now lives in Washington State with her family. P. J. Alderman is currently at work on her next Port Chatham mystery.

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