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Former opera singer Emma Streat has survived the murder of her husband and the destruction of her beautiful old house. Now a full-time single mother, she struggles to move forward and make a home for her two sons. Because of her detection skills, she has become a go-to person for help–so, when her rich, feisty, socialite godmother is blackmailed, she turns immediately to Emma. Soon, Emma founds herself thrust into the dark world of cybercrime. Mounting challenges take her to exclusive European settings where she mixes with top people in the financial and art collecting worlds and has intriguing and emotion-packed experiences with men–including her dynamic ex-lover, Lord Andrew Rodale. When she is targeted by a cybercrime network using cutting-edge technology, it takes all of Emma’s resilience and wits to survive and bring the wily, ruthless criminal she’s hunting to justice. Action-packed and full of twists and turns, this third book of the Emma Streat Mystery series does not disappoint!
Excerpted from Firewall: An Emma Streat Mystery by Eugenia Lovett West. Copyright © 2019 Eugenia Lovett West. All rights reserved. Published by SparkPress.
A spring blizzard was cascading snow over Boston’s Public Garden. I poured my first cup of coffee and went to the living room window of my temporary apartment. People going to work struggled along the paths, heads bent, feet slipping. I watched, glad that in a few days I’d be on an island in the Caribbean. Lying in the sun with a man. Finding out if a dynamic former relationship could be renewed.
My phone on the counter sounded its little chime. I picked it up and saw that the call was from my godmother, Caroline Vogt. She never called before noon, but today the gravelly tuba voice reverberated in my ear.
“Emma, I need you, and I need you now.”
This was demanding, even for Caroline. I took a deep breath. “Why do you need me? Are you still down in the Keys?”
“I’m back in New York and something has happened.”
“Oh God, I can’t believe it, but someone’s trying to blackmail me.”
“Just now. I was simply sitting in my bed, eating my breakfast, and the doorbell rang. Minnie went to open it. No one was there, just a note shoved under the door telling me to pay a million dollars to an account in a Miami bank. Pay it today. If I don’t, my dirty little secret will go to the media tomorrow. All the media.” The tuba voice wobbled.
I shifted the phone. Caroline’s usual reaction to trouble was assault mode. Strike back. Never show weakness. This call for help was totally out of character—and the timing couldn’t be worse.
“Look. I can see why you’re upset,” I said, trying to apply calm. “Blackmail is nasty, but it happens. The dirty little secret bit— everyone has secrets and that person is just trying to scare you. If you’re really worried, I think you should call the police or a detective. Someone who has real expertise.”
“No. Absolutely not. I won’t have strangers prying into my business. You’re the person we all trust in a crisis. You found Lewis’s killer. You exposed those virus terrorists and saved your niece Vanessa. You have credentials. You have to find this bastard before he comes back and wants more.”
“Wait. Let me think.” I pushed back my hair. No way did I want to be the family detective, involved in another crisis, but Caroline was now in her eighties, a mega heiress from Chicago, a fixture in New York society. Divorced four times, no children. I was the closest thing she had to family and she was frightened. I must go, but with any luck I could still get to that island. Spend three days sorting her out, then fly there from New York.
“I’m here. Listen. It’s snowing hard in Boston, a freak storm, but I’ll try for a flight today. Failing that, I’ll take the train. I’ll let you know. Relax, no need to be paranoid. Love you,” I said and clicked off.
A siren went shrieking down Arlington Street, the sound that signaled trouble. I sat down on the stool at the counter and reminded myself that I owed Caroline. She had been my unfailing support from the day I was born. She had taken the place of my dead mother. Fourteen months ago she had given me a stern lecture:
“You’re still young. You survived losing your rising opera career. You’ve done a superb job bringing up those two hunks of boys, but now they’re off to college. Cut the cord and let them go. You’ve got the money and the energy to do something important. Different.”
Good advice, but three days later, my husband was murdered and my world had gone up in flames along with my beautiful old house on the Connecticut River. I still had Jake and Steve, but creating a new life wasn’t easy. It was time, past time, to move forward.
I took a deep breath and picked up a pad of paper. First, call the airlines, then cancel this morning’s appointment for a haircut. Start packing.
By now experience should have taught me that one small incident can spiral into a tsunami of trouble. But no siren sounded, warning me that by helping Caroline I would be targeted by a network of cybercriminals. No way of knowing that her call would take me to many countries, lead to heartbreak, and nearly cost me my life.
Excerpted from Firewall: An Emma Streat Mystery by Eugenia Lovett West. Copyright © 2019 Eugenia Lovett West. All rights reserved. Published by SparkPress.
Eugenia Lovett West is the author of Firewall: An Emma Streat Mystery. Eugenia was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Her father was Reverend Sidney Lovett, the widely known and loved former chaplain at Yale. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and worked for Harper’s Bazaar and the American Red Cross. Then came marriage, four children, volunteer work, and freelancing for local papers. Her first novel, The Ancestors Cry Out, was published by Doubleday; it was followed by two mysteries, Without Warning and Overkill, published by St. Martin’s Press. West divides her time between Essex, Connecticut, and Holderness, New Hampshire, where she summers with her large extended family. For more information, please visit http://www.eugenialovettwest.com
Arriving at work early one morning, Emma discovers the body of the school custodian, a man who reminds her of her late father. When the police struggle to find the killer, the ladies decide to help solve the murder. Their efforts lead them to a myriad of suspects: the schizophrenic librarian, the crude football coach, the mysterious social studies teacher, and even Emma’s new love interest.
As Emma Lovett discovers the perils of teaching high school, she and Leslie learn more than they ever wanted to know about the reasons people kill.
Are you originally from Southern California?
I was born in Salt Lake City, Utah (and in answer to your next question, no, I am not), but raised in a Western Colorado town called Grand Junction. Because I have MS and my body responds poorly to extremes in temperature (GJ gets really hot AND really cold), we moved to San Diego, the finest city in America and very temperate, in 2011.
I’ve been there once and had a very pleasant experience.
How long did you teach English?
My first teaching job was in South Lake Tahoe, California from 1992-1994. Then I had that awful MS diagnosis in 1994, so I moved back home. I then taught English and Drama at my old high school (!) from 1994 until we moved to California in 2011. So…nineteen years? The Chalkboard Outlines® cozy mystery series was written in a fictional Colorado mountain town called Pinewood, which is a combination of both schools and towns in which I’ve taught.
Nice. I’m still trying to learn English! You could teach me a thing or two.
Why did you decide to write a memoir?
Haha. I didn’t plan it, at all—I’m usually a fiction lover because I can make up anything I want in my fictional worlds. Real life is hard, and depressing sometimes, and therefore I don’t want to write nonfiction. Then I got in this ridiculous fight with my husband, on the phone in the middle of an Office Depot parking lot, and my solution to this fight was this epiphany on how I wanted to live my life. Since I’ve lived 22 years with a Chronic Illness, and I was infertile for like 12 years before I was able to have kids, I applied this solution to these elements, included my outlook on family and wellness in light of these, and tried to put my own goofy and positive spin on the whole shebang. The result is a sort of hybridized self-helpy medical memoir with weirdness built in. I’m trying to find an agent for this book because I’d like to be able to expose it to some of those publishers that absolutely won’t look at you if you’re unsolicited and knocking at the door without an invite. I think there are a lot of people dealing with Chronic Illness or Infertility, and I know even more who appreciate some nuttiness in their day.
Thanks for sharing this, Kelley. Certainly this isn’t easy to deal with. I see it on a daily basis working in therapy. I often have to console people.
Tell us about your book, Death by Diploma.
I am obsessed with mysteries—have been since Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden and Encyclopedia Brown. I also love Shakespeare, because, you know—English teacher. That man knows more about human beings and what makes them tick than a Sigmund Freud/Charles Darwin/Jon Stewart mashup. So, mysteries are Thing One, Shakespeare is Thing Two, and then there is this amazing and fertile idea field called High School. For years I just spent too much time observing and eavesdropping on this crazy place, but when I started really writing I wanted to tap in to that. Death by Diploma is a cozy mystery that takes place in a high school, and the sleuths/suspects are this wicked fun amalgamation of me and all my colleagues and friends. The Chalkboard Outlines® series is going to be an amazing place to put all those three things together! I think the two main characters, Emma and Leslie, are as much a part of what makes the book fun as solving the mystery is.
Who or what inspired you to become a writer?
People always talk to me like this was some sort of a choice. I’ve always loved stories, have read obsessively since I was three, and because of this there are always stories in my head. The stories have to come out, somehow. It’s crucial to my mental health. So I let the stories out, and then there’s much less likelihood of a meltdown. Meltdowns bad, stories good.
No, seriously, when I read good writing it makes me want to make my own stories better. Other writers inspire me to write.
OH! I was just thinking of this today. I would love to talk to you regarding your reading obsession and experience with books. I know the need to get the stories out of my head!
What’s your goal in becoming a writer?
I would love it if lots of other people wanted to read my stories, and I’m always working to make them better. But like I said before, writing isn’t so much a choice for me as it is a compulsion, and I’d probably keep doing it even if no one else was reading. But I hope you are!
I’ll definitely be reading (or listening) to your stories. I’m drawing a connection here. So your obsession is reading, and your compulsion is writing. Not bad actually.
What three things have hindered you from completing your writing? (Conflict)
Ugh. There are so many things that hinder us. My teaching job was a big one—doing that job well takes an INORDINATE amount of time and energy, so before I had babies (with the exception of when I was getting my Master’s) I did my writing during the summers. Having children definitely makes it harder to write, although I feel so ungrateful for saying that—it took me a long time to be able to have babies! They’re so great. But also, complete energy suckers.
And the other thing for me has to do with the MS. I can only write for short periods of time, because I get really tired and because my stupid fingers stop working. Literally. They curl up into little balls of refusal, or sometimes they arch up in rigid protest. It’s ridiculous. Then I have to rest or sleep or zombify for like an hour at a time before they will start working again, and I tell ya—it really puts a cramp in my style. That’s three, right?
We have two boys–and they both are professional energy-sucking vampires. By the time 8:30 pm rolls around, I’m burnt toast. BUT I’m impressed given all of your life experiences, you were still able to pull of writing a novel. That’s impeccable!!
What keeps you motivated?
I am motivated by the fact that my husband is supporting a family of four in one of the most expensive cities in the world on a teacher’s salary, just to allow me to pursue this dream called “Writer.”
Oh wow. That’s very touching. It’s so important to find support in this wacky world of writing. It’s like learning to surf in the storm.
What’s your antagonist? What’s in the way of achieving your dream?
Really, I think my biggest antagonist is time. I feel like I need hundreds of years and 53 hours in every day to be able to tackle the millions of ideas in my head, so time or a lack thereof is my biggest antagonist. And it’s further exacerbated by the fact the hours I DO have are further limited by my own body, when the MS hits me with fatigue or appendages that don’t do what I ask them to do.
Ugh. I completely understand this one. When it’s time to write, I’m too pooped to party. Or I don’t end up writing when I do have time. Ugh!
Have you ever wanted to give up?
I love your nope.
Why do writers quit?
I don’t know. I think sometimes they don’t realize, when they start, how much work it is. And a lot of them—well, this is true for all of us, really—don’t like criticism. But people take it differently, ya know? Like if you can’t take criticism as either a) a need for improvement or b) a need to surround yourself with someone else or as c) par for the course, then maybe you’d be tempted to give up. But I think you should work on making it one of those three, or maybe you do need to find a new occupation. Because really, it’s not supposed to be easy. If it were easy, everyone would do it.
This is so true. Writing is a lot of work. There’s so many elements to tie together you need to be a seamstress.
What would you say to those who have given up?
I would tell them to look inside their heart for the reasons they want to write. If their motivation comes from that source (your heart), think again about not quitting, and then don’t! If they are looking for a way to get famous or make a lot of money, weeeeellllll…maybe in that case they should look elsewhere. (Unless they are okay with fame in their own mind—always a fun place to be!)
Yes. I love it. This is great.
Every day above ground is a good day. I don’t know who said that originally, but I say it every day. This second one I can give proper credit to: it’s Ralph Waldo Emerson: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” Isn’t that a great quote?
Mm—I just love it!
AWESOME. Love both of them.
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