The Showcase is a special feature of the Author's Spotlight. It is designed to highlight Spotlight author's NEW releases and their soon to be released novels.
The HBS Author's Spotlight SHOWCASES Ellie Campbell's New Book: MEDDLING WITH MURDER.
Author Ellie Campbell (Pam Burks and Lorraine Campbell) collaborate to write Contemporary Women's Fiction.
MEDDLING WITH MURDER
A Crouch End Confidential Mystery
Author: Ellie Campbell
Crouch End Confidential, the agency started by housewife and mother, Cathy O'Farrell, with ex-cleaner, Pimple, is failing badly. Hardly surprising when Cathy's too soft-hearted to charge their only clients, little old ladies seeking lost pets and a school kid searching for his stolen bike.
A new case involving a teenager in possession of an unexplained Glock pistol promises to change all that. Quickly Cathy's deep in waters over her head, forced with hilarious results to pose as a mathematics tutor, a subject of which she's truly clueless. There's also the tricky situation of best friend and new mother Rosa hiring her to investigate her fiancé, Alec, plus the mysterious sabotage of Cathy's friends' cycle shop and a gang of yobbos dealing drugs at her children's primary school.
Worst of all, an ill-fated trip to rural Norfolk has Cathy's husband, Declan, intent on buying a post office and transplanting the family to safer climes, threatening to tear Cathy permanently from her beloved North London home.
Pretty soon Cathy's risking her friendships, her marriage and even her life untangling all these messes. But that's what you get for meddling in murder…
An Excerpt from MEDDLING WITH MURDER
What the fudge?
The branch creaks alarmingly as I test my weight against it. For a second I think it might snap but then my foot slips and we part company anyway. Bark scrapes another layer off my grazed skin and to my horror I find myself tipping backwards, falling, falling…
Far beneath me my daughter Sophie gives an unwitting squeal, Henrietta’s twins shriek in unison and I hear son Josh call out ‘Mummeeee!’ when as much by luck as design my left arm catches a forked limb long enough for me to grasp it and come to a bone-jolting, shoulder-wrenching stop. Sweat drips down my body, my knees shake uncontrollably and something’s poking between my ribs like a sharpened spear, causing an actual hole through clothes into flesh.
Dangling, I somehow hook one leg round the main trunk and cling there like my life depends on it. Which, for the record, it does.
‘Hang on, Mum!’ Sophie yells for perhaps the fifteenth time. She’d wanted to climb up here but I’d told her it was too dangerous. When will I listen to my own advice?
I stop panting long enough to call down. ‘I’m OK, sweetheart. Perfectly safe.’ How long since I last clambered up a tree? Me, an overweight, unfit middle-aged, mother-of-two in not so skinny jeans. And what did I promise my family – that I’d avoid potentially risky situations? That any cases I took on would absolutely not involve capturing murderers or exposing criminals? Not that our patch of North London known as Crouch End is inundated with killings, just that I’ve somehow succeeded in entangling myself with two in the last eighteen months. And now the simplest of mundane jobs has turned an everyday school drop-off into what could possibly be my final farewell.
A terrified glance below shows Sophie clutching on to her younger brother’s arm, their long-standing feud forgotten as they contemplate their mother’s plight. Lauren, Henrietta’s eldest by two seconds, is hopping from foot to foot, pale with anxiety while her sister’s nervously studying her watch. I wonder what’s upsetting them most – the thought of Aunty Cathy’s untimely demise or being late for class. Yet again.
Three feet above me, inches from reach, a tortoiseshell cat stares down with baleful yellow eyes. I hold out a coaxing hand. ‘Here, Fluffy. C’mon, kitty. Pishhh whishh.’
Disregarding me entirely, he licks his paw before stalking further out, balancing on a twig, with the arrogant grace of a tightrope walker. Oh how I wish I’d ignored him when I saw that distinctive white-tipped tail swagger across the zebra crossing. But I’d spent weeks scouring backyards, crawling on hands and knees, peeking under parked cars, over hedges, listening to sweet old Mrs Thompson choke back sobs as I admitted failure.
I’m gathering my courage and strength to scale higher when my mobile rings. I wedge my bum into a crevice between branch and tree, tighten my hold and, with a few contortions worthy of the great Houdini, extract my phone from my pocket to peer at the screen.
Caller’s number withheld. Should I answer it?
Am I in any position to answer it?
Could be urgent.
‘Hello?’ I venture.
‘Is this…?’ A woman. Middle-aged at a guess, posh sounding. She drops to a muted whisper so low I have to crane to hear. ‘The HP…um…WS…um…thingy?’
Several months back I’d been donated this money, you see, ten thousand pounds, which was kind of hot, but gone cold. Semi-illegal – not to be returned. Brilliant timing as my husband, Declan, had recently re-evaluated what he wanted from life: Rhode Island Reds and a less pressurised career, I’d been suspended from work and my house cleaner, Pimple, was tired of domestic duties. I was thinking maybe it’s time I should do some soul-searching. So we, as in Pimple and myself, decided to start up a business.
‘That’s right,’ I say briskly, with enough softness to encourage conversation. ‘The H.P.W.W.O.C.S. Helping People Who Would Otherwise Commit Suicide. Or even H.P.W.M.O.C.S. – People Who Might Otherwise…but we’re called Crouch End Confidential now.’ Impromptu market research among friends had ended up with tongue-tied repetitions and lots of ‘You whats?’
We’d originally substituted the would for might, because after all, how can one predict who’ll kill themselves? Some people threaten it with no intention of going through with it and others, not a word and then boom – lives are devastated. Then there’s those who talk about it all the time and no one gives a hoot because they’re labelled attention-seekers and before you can say boom again – they carry out what they’d always said they’d carry out.
‘But you are that organisation? The ones who help with, uh difficult problems, like er…’
‘Lost pets?’ I finish for her, looking up again at Fluffy. ‘Yes, we do a fair amount of those.’ Far more than intended. ‘What kind do you have?’
‘Well, I-I…’ She seems at a loss. ‘Only—’
A strange wailing fills the morning air. At first I think it’s the cat, but it’s clearly a siren, volume increasing as it draws closer. Exceptionally loud now. Anyone would think it—
‘Is that the police?’ There’s a fearful edge to the woman’s voice. Or perhaps she’s merely anxious to be heard over the noise.
I glimpse through the branches, hearing cotton rip as I lean forward. A huge red vehicle’s speeding this way, lights blazing.
‘Fire engine,’ I report back. ‘Can’t see smoke but it must be nearby.
They’re slowing down. They’re—’
Stopping right beside the kids…
What the blazes?
Sophie’s small face gazes up at me, expression distraught in the strobe lighting, finger pointing in my direction.
‘PERHAPS I’D…’ I find I’m screaming into the phone as the siren abruptly cuts out. I turn away from the cluster of grinning helmeted and booted firemen assembling at the foot of the tree as someone cranks up the ladder. Fluffy takes one look, turns tail and bolts down the other side. I modulate my voice to more professional tones. Perhaps I’d better ring you back I’m about to suggest politely, but too late. She’s gone.
‘Calling Cathy O’Farrell. Hello? Can you read me?’
‘Yes, I’m here.’ I swiftly hide the nail polish, climb into my swivel chair and wire myself up to the Skype headset.
‘Where exactly, lovey?’ Pimple’s bespectacled eyes scan the computer screen. They travel left and right, until they finally focus on where I’m now perched facing the webcam, sporting a big beaming smile. ‘Found you. Hang on a jiffy.’
She ducks down, sits back seconds later clutching a wide-toothed comb and starts tugging vigorously at her tight curls, turning them into a helmet of grey frizz.
‘That’s better.’ She drops out of sight again, emerging with pencil in hand.
‘Now update on yesterday?’ She licks the lead tip.
My business partner, former cleaning lady and long-time friend. I both love and hate her enthusiasm for news. Love that she’s still interested in our work even though she’s travelling the globe on that luxurious cruise ship. Hate that I’ve nothing of interest to convey and am very likely letting her down, business-wise.
‘Shouldn’t you be in bed?’ I say, having lost track of the various time zones she’s travelled through.
‘Gosh, no. It’s only just gone midnight,’ she says cheerfully. ‘I’ve a card game booked in an hour and then I’m off to the casino. Thought we might have a catch-up in between.’
‘OK,’ I say, reluctantly clicking onto my spreadsheet. ‘You remember that petrol station cashier with the lost tomcat?’
‘Sure do. How’s that going?’
‘Good. We fitted him with a tracking collar. Discovered he not only had two homes but three. All the owners met for coffee. Arranged a feeding rota. She was very grateful.’
I scroll through the columns – last on the right – Income. ‘Oh Pimple, I just couldn’t ask her to cough up.’ I drop my head in shame and twist the headphone wire round and round my finger until it turns bright pink at the tip. ‘She was skint, stony broke. Only got the cashier’s job recently. Five kids to feed as well as the cat and still claiming benefits. And that’s what the fund’s about isn’t it, helping those in trouble?’
‘But Cathy, we’re meant to be running a viable concern here,’ she says.
‘Fair do’s, we agreed to support a few charity cases, but we need paying ourselves at some stage.’
‘I know.’ I’m totally feeble at fee chasing. ‘Oh but I did find Fluffy this morning. Owned by Mrs Thompson.’
‘Pensioner. Harringay Ladder.’
‘That’s right.’ I’m always amazed by her memory for detail.
‘Marvellous. We got paid for that then, yes?’
I groan. ‘I was going to charge her, I swear. But then she pulled out this ancient threadbare purse—’
‘Phooey!’ she scoffs. ‘Oldest trick in the book, that one. Bringing out the ancient threadbare purse. You’ll need to wise up, Cath. Those houses on the Ladder are worth a bomb. What else?’ Her pencil’s poised above her pad.
I run through our list of jobs, which takes precisely three minutes as apart from our two ex-clients, there’s only the newsagent who contacted me yesterday to ask if we’d investigate who’d been stealing his papers and a schoolkid called Ben who’d rung Monday to say his new mountain bike had been nicked and the police weren’t doing anything about it.
I’d asked him to wait a few days and if no joy to call back.
‘That’s it?’ She wrinkles her brow.
‘Looks like I’ll need a new mop when I get home, after all.’ She lets out a sigh that sounds like a steamship in heavy fog.
Worse thing is she probably will. Money’s haemorrhaging faster than I can spell the word. We had to invest in the computer because mine was horrendously slow. Then there was the cost of stationery, surveillance equipment, etc. – all the paraphernalia needed in setting up. At least office space is free. We’re based in Pimple’s Edwardian semi-detached home, couple of miles down the road from Crouch End. Seemed daft forking out when she had a spare room – perfect to shove two desks in.
It’s where I am now.
‘Oh I’m sure that won’t—’ I stop. Because there’s a ploppy sound and she disappears into the ether, like Endora from Bewitched.
I wait a few seconds, see if she’ll reconnect, but nothing. No need to call back. We’ve both said what we had to. The phone, the one all prospective clients are meant to call, is staring at me accusingly.
I pick it up. Check it’s still working. Could be a fault and hundreds of sad souls have been trying to connect. Crying out for help.
I listen a second. Strong, healthy brrr.
Contemporary Women's Fiction, Chick Lit, Romance
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Ellie Campbell is a pseudonym for sisters, Pam Burks and Lorraine Campbell who collaborate across the mighty Atlantic from their respective homes in Surrey, England and Colorado, USA, finding writing together a great excuse for endless phone conversations. Together they have written four novels How To Survive Your Sisters, When Good Friends Go Bad, Looking For La La and To Catch A Creeper. They love any chance to connect with their readers.
Author's Book List
Million Dollar Question
What can rock your world faster than winning or losing a king's ransom overnight?
Just as a huge financial scandal throws New Yorker, Olivia Wheeler, from wealth and success to bankruptcy and shame, struggling impoverished single-mother Rosie Dixon wins an unexpected million pounds. Good luck? Bad luck? Who can tell? Both women have more in common than they realize. While Olivia struggles to survive her humiliations, fleeing broke and homeless to London, shy unassuming Rosie discovers sudden riches arrive with their own mega-load of problems.
Can workaholic career-obsessed Olivia find a passion for something earthier and warmer than power and prestige? And can Rosie sift through envy and greed to discover true friends, true family and even true love?
Two strangers who've never met. Yet neither realizes how each is affecting the other's destiny or the places their paths touch and fates entwine.
How will they surmount the pitfalls and perils of their outrageous change of fortune?
That is the million dollar question.
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To Catch A Creeper
Cathy is riding high in her brand-new job at a (surprisingly bitchy) top London advertising agency working with best friend Rosa. But when Rosa’s pregnancy goes amiss and enemies sabotage her new career, she finds herself leading a chaotic double life of lies and deception, hiding a shameful secret from all, especially husband Declan who appears in the throes of a nervous breakdown. Meanwhile she’s agreed to unmask the notorious Crouch End Creeper, a burglar terrorizing their neighbourhood. Little does she know that her meddling, assisted by fellow mothers (the Wednesday Once Weeklies) and the Neighbourhood Watch, will lead their dangerous opponent to murder. And that it's not only the tall elegant transvestite who is placing herself at risk…
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Barnes and Noble
When Good Friends Go Bad
All through school, tomboy Jen, snobby Georgina, hippy Meg and gentle Rowan, were inseparable. Until, that is, the unfortunate consequences of a childish prank tore them apart. As adults an attempted reunion went disastrously wrong. Rowan failed to appear. Meg behaved outrageously and - sharpest cut of all - Jen discovered just how deeply Georgina had betrayed her.
So now, a mother herself, in the midst of divorce, the last thing Jen needs is a call from Meg. Or is it? Will Meg’s strange mission to track down the missing Rowan re-open old wounds or is it a chance to heal the rift – or to recover Jen’s never-forgotten, first true love? As their quest unearths secrets and feelings best left buried, Jen, Meg and Georgina will be tested on love, loyalty, and friendship, discover the truth about Rowan – and wake a danger that threatens them all.
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How To Survive Your Sisters
When it comes to sisterly rivalry, the McCleod family has a long history and with the social event of the year looming, there are bound to be some fireworks. Natalie wants the perfect wedding. Milly longs to be able to fit into something other than her maternity trousers. Avril secretly dreams of settling down with an unmarried man. And Hazel, the baby of the family, just wishes she was taken more seriously.
Forced together for the first time in years, it’s not long before they slip into old habits and childhood squabbles. But when tragedy strikes and all plans have to be put aside, it’s surprising who’s there to lean on. But all the more surprising are the skeletons that are about to come out of the rather crowded McCleod closet…
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Looking for La La
Bored stay at home mother, Cathy, finds her predictable routine upturned as she investigates a lipstick-covered love postcard sent to husband, Declan. Who is this mysterious La La? Could Declan really be having an affair? And - wait - is Cathy actually being stalked?
With all her friends hiding secrets, a sexy admirer igniting long-forgotten sparks, and the stress of organizing the school's Save The Toilets dance, soon it's not only Cathy's marriage that's in jeopardy. Add in the scheming antics of Declan's new assistant and a possible murderer on the scene and the stage is set for a dangerous showdown and some very unsettling, even deadly, revelations.
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