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The year is 1897, and Vincente Chavez rules the Red Light District in Old Los Angeles. Someone plunges a knife into the heart of the young prostitute who lives with him — his mistress. Unfortunately, she becomes no more than a brief footnote in Los Angeles history. No one could predict how her death would affect lives in the brief span of one hundred years.
P.I. Sandi Webster is in for the surprise of her life when her overbearing, menopausal mother arrives in Los Angeles and wants her to solve a century-old murder. Her mother’s attitude causes confident, armed-and-dangerous Sandi to feel like a gibbering child. Oblivious to her effect on her daughter, Livvie tries to ensure Sandi’s cooperation in solving the crime by enticing her with the story of a long lost treasure. Can Sandi solve the murder and find the treasure before someone takes her life?
It was a moonless night. The old man strolled out of a doorway and turned into The Alley, stopping to sigh over the tiresome fog. Lights filtering through the windows were faint, and when he passed those windows he heard the sounds of a man’s low rolling chuckle and a woman’s responsive soft, seductive coo.
Frowning, he pulled his collar up and tugged his hat lower on his brow. The old man was slightly stooped and walked with a marked stiffness. The moist fog chilled his aging bones.
The census records listed him as a rancher. Insurance maps showed the buildings as Ladies Boarding Houses, located on a street named Negro Alley in Chinatown. But he wasn’t a rancher, and the cribs and brothels he passed weren’t boarding houses. They belonged to him and they’d made him rich. He didn’t give a thought to the fallen women, the soiled doves--only to the money they made for him.
The newspaper had referred to him as a “wizened little old man,” but that hadn’t always been the case. Some of the politicians were still in his hip pocket, even after all the accusations that had been leveled against him. There was no proof, and people could think what they wanted. Maybe the sins of the past, and the present, were coming back to haunt him. Even so, this was his territory--his place. He belonged here.
Could people really believe that he, Vincente Chavez, had committed such a heinous crime? Yes, and it was his own fault because of his chosen profession. A faint smile touched the corners of his wrinkled lips.
A young prostitute, sitting on the sill of an open window, saw the man and his self-satisfied smile and froze. As he passed, she glanced at the ground and tried to pretend she hadn’t seen him.
~ * ~
I signed my name to the check and turned to Pete.
“We’re in trouble, Pete.”
“What do you mean? What kind of trouble?”
“When I send off this check for the office rent, we’ll be just about broke.”
“What are you talking about, Sandi? We’ve had three new cases come in just in the last week.”
“I know, but the insurance companies are taking their own sweet time about paying us.”
Pete’s brown eyes clouded over. “Why didn’t you say something before now?”
“I thought the checks would start filtering in. They didn’t.” Had I made a mistake when I opened my private investigating firm?
“You’ve billed them, right?”
“Of course. They’re just not on the same schedule that we are.”
“We’re on a schedule?”
“Yeah. My schedule included going grocery shopping tonight. Theirs didn’t.”
Pete was quiet for a minute. “I’ve got some savings that I could--”
“No. Don’t worry yet. I have a new client coming in from Chicago. A paying client.”
“Who?” Pete stood up and walked over to my desk.
“My mother,” I mumbled.
“Didn’t hear you. Who?” He leaned closer.
“You’re joking, right?”
“What does she want us to do?” Pete ran his hands through his dark brown hair, looking like he was ready to laugh.
“Don’t know.” I tried to concentrate on the silver streaks beginning to pepper his temples.
“She wants to pay us for a job, but you don’t know what or why?”
“Yeah.” I turned my head and avoided his gaze.
“Sandi, look me in the eyes with those big blues of yours and tell me what’s going on. And speak in complete sentences.”
I stood up so I could look him in the eyes. It didn’t work. He’s almost six feet tall and I’m only five foot three.
“I don’t know what my mother wants.” I pointed to some library books having to do with Los Angeles history that were sitting on my desk.
“Sandi, what did she say?” Pete asked.
I tried to make him understand. “All she said was that she wants me to read up on the Red Light District in Old Los Angeles, and that she wants me to take care of some business for her. The only connection I can think of is that my great-great-great-grandfather was very active in that, shall we say, profession.”
Marja McGraw, born and raised in Southern California, is a true native of the state with roots going back several generations. McGraw has a background in both civil and criminal law. Author of Secrets of Holt House, A Well-Kept Family Secret and Bubba’s Ghost and Prudy's Back!
Marja and her husband live in Northern Arizona where they enjoy hot summers and boating.
Sandi Webster is a fresh new addition to the ranks of female private investigator. You won’t want to miss this book or any of the future installments. A Well-Kept Family Secret is actually a little treasure itself. --Dorothy Bodoin, Darkness at Foxglove Corners
A Well-Kept Family Secret: McGraw unleashes Sandi and Pete and a slightly wacky mother to solve a hundred year old murder. McGraw's conversational style makes it a one-sitting read. The book is filled with lively characters and scenes the reader will long remember.--L. C. Hayden, Why Casey Had To Die, An Agatha Finalist for Best Novel
Marja McGraw's Sandy Webster is a spunky detective who meets her match in Prudy, an old-time gumshoe. This book has an old fashioned glamour and a good dose of humor in the interaction between the detectives, old and young. A fun mystery with a surprising twist! --Julia Buckley, Author of The Dark Backward
Book Publisher: Wings ePress
No. of Pages: 328
Paper Weight (lb): 13.6
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