Sandra holding a giveaway so be sure to leave a comment with your E-Mail Addy.
Thanks for being her today, Sandra :)
One day, when I worked in downtown Portland, I was walking across busy 5th Avenue, when suddenly I had the idea of having a female detective named Shirley Combs who would have been teased about her name, but in spite of -- or maybe even because of that -- became the world's greatest living detective. One day she meets her Dr. Watson. A young naturopath, Mary Watson, who becomes Shirley's sidekick and narrator. Once I decided to write the first book, I realized it would make a great series. I’m at work on the second book right now.
The first book, The Hounding, is a direct descendant of A. Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles in every way. It is not a copy or a rewrite, but a descendant. In fact, the client is a descendant of Sherlock Holmes’s client. The second book, The Illustrious Client, is a descendant in another way. Once again the title is a riff on Doyle’s similar title, and the story is descended from his story, but my story is of this century, and includes a murder.
Here’s a synopsis of The Hounding:
Tall, thin, androgynous Shirley Combs considers herself the world’s greatest living detective because she uses the methods and casebook of Sherlock Holmes to solve crimes of the gentry of the American city most closely resembling London, England -- in terms of the weather, at least. Sidekick/narrator Dr. Mary Watson both delights in and is frustrated by her partner’s behavioral resemblance to Sherlock. Combs is unemotional, analytical, and given to pacing through the night in the streets of the almost perfectly livable city of Portland, Oregon. Her ability to observe details and understand their relationship to a case is unmatched; her demands on Watson’s time are too.
Shirley Combs bills herself as the world’s greatest living detective, and why not? Taunted and teased as a child because her name sounded so much like Sherlock Holmes's, she developed an early obsession with the adventures and methods of Sherlock himself. She considered her fate sealed when she met up with Dr. Mary Watson. Shirley adds the technology of today to Holmes’s 100-year-old casebook and solves the mysteries of her much-beloved hometown. Mary Watson assists, and - of course - chronicles their exciting exploits. The planned series of novels incorporates and explores current events, types of people, social/economic situations that occur in Portland and the Pacific Northwest.
And now for a sample, Chapter One:
Cilla can’t seem to shake the nightmare. She almost gives up her daily run rather than face the possibility of meeting those dogs in real life. Dogs are reality for every marathon runner, and each runner finds a way to deal with them. But for Cilla, the fear of being attacked runs so deep she feels it is part of her genetic makeup.
She jerks awake at 5:37 a.m. the sky barely light as she sits up, shaking, sweating, her heart pounding as she listens for the heavy breath, the pounding footsteps that haunts her awake.
Breakfast, newspaper, even the Today Show doesn’t erase the feeling that the giant hound is waiting for her around the next corner.
Finally she dons her running gear and sets out, determined to do her eight miles anyway. The Portland Marathon is seven weeks away, and Cilla intends to achieve her personal best. She adds a light windbreaker to her outfit, tying it loosely around her waist by the sleeves, because even though the calendar says August second, the temperature at ten a.m. is only 51 degrees.
As she crosses Highway 43 at Glenmorrie Road and starts the three point one mile trek that becomes Old River Road, Cilla breathes one small sigh of relief. She knows this stretch of road like no other. This is the one she includes on every run, every walk, and every bicycle ride. This beautiful road along the Willamette River has more trees and fewer dogs per square foot than any other property she knows.
Oh sure, there are houses, particularly at the beginning and end of the road. And yes, homeowners have dogs, but for some reason not so many dogs, and so far, she hasn’t hurt any of them.
Cilla always carries a pocket-sized can of mace and an umbrella, for the express purpose of warding off dogs. She read somewhere that letter carriers open automatic umbrellas in the faces of their canine foes and the dogs back up or run away. She tried it a few times herself and the element of surprise gave her enough lead-time to run away.
The sky is overcast. The low clouds and tall trees seem to enforce a certain silence. Cilla’s breathing is the loudest sound she hears. Her feet hit the ground rhythmically, one two, one two. She breathes in for four counts, out for four. Her thoughts seem to float just ahead of her, pulling her onward, coaxing her step-by-step, mile after mile.
As she reaches the halfway point on Old River Road, she is halfway through her eight-mile training run. Tomorrow she will run thirteen. Today is an easy day. She can feel herself begin to relax. Her breath, still keeping the beat, comes into her lungs a little easier. The ground isn’t quite so hard as it was a moment ago.
In the distance she hears a car door open. There are no houses for another half mile; either the sound carried along the river, or someone is parked somewhere ahead, probably enjoying the quiet.
Suddenly Cilla hears the pounding footsteps, the heavy slobbering breath of her nightmares. She stops for a second to hear which way the sound is coming from. At the same time, she readies both mace and umbrella. The dogs are coming toward her. She whirls and begins retracing her path.
They are coming too fast. She piles on the energy, grateful for her years of running, proud of her ability to create bursts of speed when needed.
The hounds begin to bark. They see her. She glances over her shoulder. There are two of them — wedge-shaped heads, powerful legs, wiry bodies — pit bulls. Adrenalin shoots through Cilla’s body like lightning. She knows she cannot outrun these dogs for any great distance. She heads for the river. She feels sure she can outswim them, and doubts their ability to attack while in the water.
Cilla slides and falls down the embankment toward the Willamette. Damn! A barbed wire fence. She stands up, desperately hanging onto her weapons, steps on the bottom wire, and prepares to step over the top one. The wire snaps and the barbs from the top wire rips through her pants, tearing her flesh and causing her to cry out. As she bends to crawl between the wires, one of the dogs leaps onto her back, bites into the back of her neck and begins to shake her head viciously from side to side.
The powerful jaws of the second terrier snaps into her left side with a terrible force. Cilla fights for her life. She sprays the mace as best she can, pops open the automatic umbrella, and waves them both in the direction of the two canines. She knows that pit bulls are rumored to fight for hours, but she has the experience of years of nightmares, of horrible fantasies and planning how she will escape should she ever actually be attacked by her greatest enemy. She can’t believe it is actually happening; yet the pain is excruciating and she feels herself fighting to stay conscious.
When the dogs refuse to succumb to the mace, and merely rip the umbrella skin from its ribs, Cilla drops the weapons and tries desperately to pull herself through the fence, not aware that the barbs are by now embedded into the palms of her hands. The first dog continues to shake her by the neck, the second is barking, snapping, tearing flesh from her leg. She can’t see it, but she can smell the hot blood intermingled with the scent of the dogs’ bodies and breath, and the fresh green smell of the undergrowth only inches beneath her nose.
She struggles beyond human strength to shake the dogs free and at last manages to rid herself of the first one. Then suddenly, from somewhere far away, she hears a low buzzing sound. The dogs hear it too. They stop their attack; they run away. Cilla disengages herself from the barbed wire, stands up and begins to survey the damage. A wave of dizziness causes her to sway, and a crushing pain hits the middle of her chest.
As she becomes aware that she is losing the battle for consciousness, Cilla thinks that in spite of the pain, in spite of the horror, the actual reality was not as bad as her fears, because she felt proud of her fight, and comforted by the approaching darkness.
The last thing Cilla ever hears is the sound of a car door slamming shut.
Buy the book here:
I am doing a giveaway the day the paperback of The Hounding is officially released (soon!) Leave a comment here or at Red Crested Chatter blog. You can leave a comment (plus your email, so I can contact you) at each blog, to get more chances, but no more than one per blog, please. The giveaway is a signed copy of The Hounding. This is only for USA commenters though (due to price of mailing outside of US). For those outside of US, I will give instead a gift cert for price of the book at amazon.com, so that I can email you.
Sandra de Helen lives and writes in Portland, Oregon where she is a member of Penplay. See more of her work at www.SandradeHelen.com. de Helen is also a proud member of the Dramatists Guild and International Centre for Women Playwrights.