Small-town secrets and subterfuge lead to murder in this fast-moving, deftly written tale of high-stakes real estate wrangling gone amok.
Journalist Emily Garland lands a plum assignment as the editor of a niche magazine based in Lount’s Landing, a small town named after a colorful 19th century Canadian traitor. As she interviews the local business owners for the magazine, Emily quickly learns that many people are unhappy with real estate mogul Garrett Stonehaven’s plans to convert an old schoolhouse into a mega-box store. At the top of that list is Arabella Carpenter, the outspoken owner of an antiques shop, who will do just about anything to preserve the integrity of the town’s historic Main Street.
But Arabella is not alone in her opposition. Before long, a vocal dissenter at a town hall meeting about the proposed project dies. A few days later, another body is discovered, and although both deaths are ruled accidental, Emily’s journalistic suspicions are aroused.
Putting her reporting skills to the ultimate test, Emily teams up with Arabella to discover the truth behind Stonehaven’s latest scheme before the murderer strikes again.
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“A well-crafted mystery in the classic tradition. A small town with a dark past, inhabitants full of secrets, a ruthless developer, and an intrepid reporter with secrets of her own come together to create a can’t-put-down read. I look forward to the further adventures of Emily Garland and Lount’s Landing.” —Vicki Delany, author, Constable Molly Smith series
“In her debut thriller, Judy Penz Sheluk introduces us to Emily Garland, a feisty reporter sent to a small town to uncover the fraudulent schemes of a big city developer. But everyone, including Emily’s boss, has a secret agenda. And some of those secrets are deadly.” —Janet Bolin, author, the Threadville Mysteries
“Compelling characters with hidden connections and a good, old-fashioned amateur sleuth getting in over her head without the distraction of cats, spirits, or recipes makes Judy Penz Sheluk’s Glass Dolphin series one to read. Upon turning the last page of The Hanged Man’s Noose, I wanted to hop in the car and drive straight away to Lount’s Landing, sit down in the tavern that lent its name to the title, and start quizzing the characters on what was going to happen in the sequel.” — James M. Jackson, author, Seamus McCree series
“A thoroughly engaging debut mystery… well-plotted, well-paced and just plain well done!” — Elizabeth J. Duncan, author, the Penny Brannigan and Shakespeare in the Catskills mystery series
“Emily Garland is sent to a small Canadian town about to be invaded by a mega-store to work on a magazine. She has reason to dislike the developer—and apparently, so do many others in town. As the body count rises, Emily needs to figure out who killed who, and why. Replete with twists and turns, the story keeps the reader guessing right up to the end. Highly recommended!” — J.E. Seymour, author, Kevin Markinson series
“Dedicated journalist Emily Garland arrives in Lount’s Landing to find that long-buried secrets are threatening her new friends–and her own life. The story won’t let you go until you’ve raced through the pages and unraveled all the mysteries.” — Kaye George, author, the Fat Cat and Cressa Carraway Musical Mystery series
Emily Garland stared at the blank white page on her computer screen. Less than five hours to meet her Urban Living deadline, and she still hadn’t come up with a new way to spin the same old condo stats.
She blamed the lack of concentration on her upcoming meeting with Michelle Ellis. Why would the editor-in-chief of Urban Living Publications want to meet with her in person? Outside of the obligatory appearances at builders’ conventions and awards galas, Emily couldn’t remember a time when she’d met with Michelle face-to-face. Certainly she’d never been invited to her office. She glanced at her Timex Ironman watch. 11:03 a.m. Time to get writing.
While it’s common knowledge the Greater Toronto Area’s (GTA) high-rise market is through the roof, most people don’t realize how far along it has come: as of this reporting period, high-rise condominium suites make up approximately 60 percent of total new homes sold.
According to the Urban Building Association (U-BUILD), several factors are behind the condo surge, including a shortage of land. With limited supply, the cost of detached, semis, and townhouses has continued to escalate.
“Condominiums are a practical alternative,” said Garrett Stonehaven, a prominent real estate developer and CEO of HavenSent Developments, Inc. “Builders are also ‘right-sizing’ to create more space-efficient and, thus affordable, units.”
Right-sizing for affordability—what a bunch of hooey! After ten years of writing about the residential housing industry, Emily had been around Garrett Stonehaven enough to know he didn’t have an altruistic bone in his handsome, six-foot tall body—at least not once the television cameras stopped rolling. But it didn’t matter what she thought. The camera loved him. The readers of Urban Living loved him. Which was why Emily quoted him, every chance she got. It was called job security, a precious commodity to a freelance writer. She wrote a while longer until it was time to zero in on the closer.
“As the builder/developer of CondoHaven on the Park, we are interested in foreign and local investment potential,” said Stonehaven. “But our primary focus is, and always will be, building homes for people to come home to.”
– 30 –
Complete blather, Emily thought, entering the somewhat archaic -30- to denote The End. She looked at her watch. There was still plenty of time to get in a five-mile run.
* * *
Emily arrived at the offices of Urban Living Publications at promptly 5:00 p.m., punctuality being both the curse and the reward of living life eternally on deadline. The offices took up a generous portion of the forty-fourth floor. Someone was doing okay. The going rate for commercial real estate in the financial sector was in the nosebleed section of dollars per square foot.
A petite fifty-something bottle blonde in a navy blue power suit marched out of a glass-walled office. “Emily, dear, so glad you could make it.”
“Michelle. Good to see you.” Emily held out her hand before Michelle could get into the whole hugging, air-pecking-on-the-cheek business.
“Come to my office. We need to talk.”
The office was far more luxurious than Emily could have imagined. Emily had always thought editors and publishers were crammed into windowless, paper-infested cubbyholes. This was definitely a far cry from the cramped Queen Street quarters where she’d interned for a small press publisher right after graduation. Those offices had mounds of manuscripts threatening to buckle battle-scarred tables and bookcases overflowing with titles from past to present, bestsellers and busts and dreams turned to dust.
Michelle’s office, on the other hand, featured a bank of windows with a view of the city’s waterfront. A handful of sailboats dotted the late season waters. The remaining walls were covered in paintings, although none were immediately recognizable, at least to Emily’s untrained eye. She suspected they might be by up-and-coming artists. She’d heard Michelle was heavily into the art scene. A massive mahogany desk—real mahogany, not the laminate look-alike she had in her own home office—held nothing but a twenty-seven-inch iMac, a twisty-looking acrylic sculpture in shades of gold and cobalt blue, and a silver-framed photograph of a fine-boned teenager, his straw-colored hair and peach fuzz whiskers glinting in the noonday sun, his clear blue eyes looking up with adoration at a tall, handsome teenager standing next to him.
“My son and his best friend,” Michelle said. “The sculpture is from an Aboriginal artist in Northern Manitoba. But enough of the pleasantries. I’m sure you’re curious to know why I asked you here, Emily, dear, instead of sending the usual email. Or calling.”
“A little curious.” Hoping for the best, expecting the worst. Already a little tired of the “dear.”
“I’m assuming you’ve heard the Huntzberger acquisition rumors?”
Word on the street had Michelle and a couple of silent partners in negotiations to purchase Huntzberger Publications. Emily debated feigning ignorance but instead opted for the truth. Publishing was a small world. No way Michelle would believe she hadn’t heard. “Yes.”
“They’re all true. Like many publishers these days, Huntzberger has been bleeding red ink. With the possible exception of tabloid journalism, people simply aren’t buying print like they used to. But Huntzberger’s loss is Urban Living’s gain. My partners and I believe that properly managed, and with some innovative investments, publishing can be more than profitable, it can be lucrative.”
Once again Emily wondered why she’d been summoned. As a freelance writer, she wasn’t exactly privy to any corporate secrets. “I’m sure it’s a wonderful opportunity.” She straightened her posture and attempted to look suitably impressed.
“More than you can imagine. The official announcement of the acquisition was sent to all the media outlets earlier today, embargoed until tonight’s six o’clock news. From that point onward, we’ll be known as Urban-Huntzberger, Inc. My partners are in the process of preparing our IPO. These things take time, but we’re hoping to get listed within a few months.”
Preparing an Initial Public Offering, getting listed on the stock exchange. It had definite possibilities. Maybe Michelle was going to offer her a full-time job, one with benefits: dental, medical, paid vacation. A girl could dream. “Who are the partners?”
“They prefer to remain silent investors for the moment, though that will change when we go public. But you needn’t let such things concern you. I’ll remain editor-in-chief for all Urban-Huntzberger publications, and you’ll continue to report directly to me on any assignments. Which brings me to today. We would like to offer you an assignment. But this one is a bit, hmmm, different.”
Emily shifted forward in her seat. “Different?”
“It would involve relocating.”
“Relocating?” Emily realized she was beginning to sound like a bit of a parrot. “To where? For how long?”
“To Lount’s Landing. For as long as it takes. Probably three to six months. Possibly longer.”
Lount’s Landing? Emily searched her brain for any sign of recognition. None came. “Where exactly is Lount’s Landing?”
“About ninety minutes northeast of Toronto. A charming little hamlet nestled along the shores of the Dutch River. We’ve arranged for a monthly lease on a Victorian row house within walking distance to the town’s Main Street. Even better, we’ll cover the rent for the course of the assignment.”
Emily tried not to stare. Urban Living Publications, or rather, Urban-Huntzberger, had rented a Victorian row house? In a town called Lount’s Landing? For a long-term assignment? What on earth?
“I know, dear. It’s all rather overwhelming, but we specifically selected you for the assignment. You’re a talented writer. A thorough researcher. A hard worker. Utterly reliable. More importantly, you know the business from top to bottom.”
Maybe the last five years of trying to put a new spin on the same old condo stats hadn’t gone unnoticed after all. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. But permit me to be perfectly frank. There was one other important consideration. You don’t appear to have any ties to hold you here.” Michelle turned to her computer, pulled up a document, and began reading. “No siblings. Both parents deceased. Father when you were fourteen. Stomach cancer. Mother two years ago.” She paused. “Accidental overdose.”
Emily went from stunned silence to outright indignation. They had been investigating her? Knew, or at least suspected, about her mother’s suicide?
And what was all that nonsense about not having any ties in Toronto? Sure, Kevin might have dumped her for that blonde bimbo who called herself a personal trainer, but it wasn’t like she didn’t have a friend to her name. Besides, she’d known it was over with Kevin for a long time. But she’d invested so much time and energy in him, trying to make it work. And then for him to up and leave her, as if she had been nothing more than a meaningless diversion…
“If you’re trying to portray me as a loner loser—”
“Not at all, dear, not at all. We understand the healing power of solitude. We also know you privately loathe Garrett Stonehaven. Not without cause, if our research into your mother’s situation can be trusted. All things considered, we believe you’re the perfect candidate for this assignment.”
All things considered? What did that arrogant SOB Garrett Stonehaven have to do with an assignment in Lount’s Landing? His turf had always been in Toronto’s downtown core. More importantly, what did all this have to do with her mother’s death, accidental or otherwise?
“We particularly enjoyed your exposé of the Kraft-Fergusson brownfield development,” Michelle continued. “And you’re always saying how much you enjoy the investigative side of journalism. We’re simply willing to provide the opportunity, albeit at a much higher level. We’re also willing to compensate you handsomely for the privilege, including benefits and stock options.”
Emily thought back to her coverage of the brownfield scandal, the weeks of investigative research, trying to learn all she could about the types of hazardous waste and chemical pollutants industries like Kraft-Fergusson left behind. Remembered the long days of chasing down leads, the hours of writing and rewriting.
It had been one of the most rewarding—and frustrating—experiences of her career. Rewarding because she had finally been taken seriously as a journalist. Frustrating because, despite the fact that HavenSent Developments owned the Kraft-Fergusson land, she’d never managed to pin any of the toxic dirt on Garrett Stonehaven. Thanks to his accountant, Eldon Thornbury, a vile man who slithered through loopholes and then sewed up the ends, HavenSent, and Stonehaven by association, had been completely exonerated of any wrongdoing. Had been lauded, in fact, for their utmost co-operation with all authorities.
“You have my attention.”
Michelle reached into a drawer and pulled out a contract.
“First, Emily, we need you to agree to our terms and conditions, the usual confidentiality and exclusivity verbiage. I assure you, nothing sinister is behind the offer. We have only your best interests at heart. Of course, if you don’t want the gig, there are plenty of other writers who would jump at the opportunity. Kerri St. Amour, for example.”
Kerri say-no-more? They were comparing her to that backstabbing hack? Emily glanced at the numbers in front of her and thought hard. Get the goods on Stonehaven and get paid for the pleasure. There was enough money on the table to stop renting, put a down payment on a place of her own. Maybe take a few months off, write the historical romance she’d been dabbling with for years. It might be therapeutic to start over, go to a place where nobody knew her, a place where she wasn’t Kevin’s somewhat pathetic ex-fiancée. But was it all too good to be true? There had to be a catch. In her life, there was always a catch.
“What would I have to do?”
“HavenSent Developments is exploring a development opportunity in Lount’s Landing. Nothing unusual, though it is a bit far afield, even for someone as ruthless as Garrett Stonehaven. But our source tells us there’s more to Stonehaven’s latest plan than meets the eye. Much more.”
“Where do I fit in?”
“The town has a monthly magazine, Inside the Landing. It’s a promotional glossy, similar to Urban Living, albeit on a much smaller scale, with stories about businesses in the community. Runs about forty pages, could be more if the ad revenue was there. It now falls under the Urban-Huntzberger umbrella. The previous owner had been ready to sell out and retire for some time.”
“And my role?”
“You would be responsible for all the editorial content, make some much-needed improvements to the publication. In fact, we’d encourage it as part of your cover.”
Aha! Catch number one. Part of my cover. Mind you, it did sound intriguing. “If I agree?”
“You’d move to Lount’s Landing. Get to know the town, the people, make some friends. Find out what Garrett Stonehaven’s up to. And write us an exclusive that will have Urban-Huntzberger’s stock market value skyrocketing higher than the latest GTA condo.”
Emily suspected this went way beyond a publisher trying to make money. What had Stonehaven done to warrant a Michelle Ellis sponsored witch-hunt? Who was Michelle’s source of information? She cursed herself for wanting to find out, when every instinct told her to run.
“And the source?”
“Better you don’t know. That way you can observe everyone with the same degree of neutrality, although we have arranged for you to connect with a Johnny Porter. He’s the chairman of the Main Street Merchants’ Association. He seems keen to keep Inside the Landing operational, although that’s all he knows. It would be best for all concerned if you kept it that way.”
Emily nodded. It certainly sounded as though Urban-Huntzberger had everything covered. She wondered whether she should study the contract, contact a lawyer. Take a moment to decide whether this was the opportunity of a lifetime or an act of insanity. “How long do I have?”
“We need an answer ASAP. You’d move in by the end of the month, sooner if possible. The rental house has been recently renovated and is currently available.”
Michelle stood up. “Emily, you’ve been in this business long enough to know this kind of assignment doesn’t come along every day. Work with us. Get rich with us. And help us to expose Garrett Stonehaven for the lying, cheating, bastard we both know he is.”
Definitely more to this scenario than meets the eye. Emily pulled a gold-plated pen out of her handbag, a graduation gift from her mother a dozen years ago. She twirled it between her fingers, remembering how proud her mom had been, her daughter the first one in the family to go beyond high school. Remembered the way her mother had looked the last time Emily saw her, shell-shocked and shattered.
“Where do I sign?”