by Katherine V. Forrest
The most celebrated detective in lesbian literature returns in the most fateful case of her career…
“Kate,” Detective Joe Cameron said, “there was always the possibility—”
“—that like most threats they were just threats,” Kate finished for him. She knew better. Had known from the start this was as real as death.
Death is now on her doorstep. Not even her loyal LAPD colleagues can protect her from an attack that may come from anywhere, anytime.
Four years retired, Kate Delafield has a twenty-year old case roaring back on her, a case from which she had recoiled, withdrawn herself. A homophobic homicide far too reminiscent of a recent, haunting, life-changing investigation of the murder of a young lesbian at the Nightwood Bar. Now she suffers in secret, knowing she is personally culpable for the mishandling of evidence.
She has also begun to understand how the roads she has traveled have led her to this day. The key decisions about the conduct of her life and her police career that have brought her directly to this time, this place in the high desert where she has taken herself. All she can do now, she resolves, is protect as best she can the people she loves most, especially Aimee, from this threat. And, until her time runs out, she can go back and investigate, determine who actually ended the life of fifteen-year-old April Shuster.
But events, people, intervene. New people in her present life, some from her past. And they will take her in the most unexpected of directions.
A Kate Delafield Mystery Series Book 10.
FROM THE AUTHOR
"Why simply Delafield as a title? Because this novel weaves together recurring strands and themes from previous Kate Delafield stories, Kate’s history, her personal and professional lives coalescing like never before in the most consequential, fateful case of her career. The choices and missteps of a lifetime converge in so starkly visible a pattern that even headstrong, denying Kate cannot look away; her very survival depends on her insights into herself, her decisions. This book, the final one in the series, is in many ways a summation of Kate as a person in the post-LAPD stages of her life, and the title is an echoing of that summation. Besides, Kate’s been such an interesting, contradictory, complex character to write about over the years, she deserves her own title."
—Katherine V. Forrest
The Lesbian Review
If you’re in the mood to devour a well-written, poignant and engrossing mystery that features a flawed and totally relatable main character—then you should definitely buy this book, as a matter of fact, you should get all the books in this awesome series!
Della B. - I have been a diehard fan of this series since its inception in 1984 with Amateur City. Each novel can be read as a standalone but I highly recommend reading each and every book of this multiple award winning series. Ms Forrest has created a brilliantly tortured character in Kate. She is the sum total of her experiences, losses and life choices. Kate has never seen what others have in her. Being her own harshest critic has always kept Kate from embracing her accomplishments and the love offered to her.
Ms Forrest is a brilliant writer. Her word choices combined with the deep understanding of the human ethos has me rereading the same sentence in a poetic haze. She speaks to my soul. Let her speak to yours.
Abbott F. - Katherine Forest has written a tension-filled novel about an iconic LesFic character. As Forest ratchets up the tension throughout the book and Delafield begins looking harder at her life, the book becomes increasingly harder to read while at the same time being harder to put down.
The ending is unexpected and more satisfying because of it. People who either haven’t met Kate Delafield before or maybe haven’t read the last few books in this series won’t be left out in the cold because Forest deftly reminds her readers of the major cases Delafield had handled over her thirty years as a member of the LAPD.
If you love police procedurals or thrillers or suspense or mysteries or books about familiar characters, then this book is for you. If you love well-written character-driven books, put this book at the top of your to-be-read list.
Laura G. - This book is intense, and I felt so bad for Kate. She is such a tortured character. After so many years in law enforcement she's haunted by so much, the cases that's she's worked, the loves she's lost. She is her harshest critic and doesn't see all the good inside of herself. This is a beautifully, haunting character study of a woman working to maintain her sobriety while trying to make amends for the mistakes of the past. I will be going back and reading the previous books in this series because this book has reminded me of just how brilliant and legendary Katherine V. Forrest is.
Anne M. - There is a lot going on here and while waiting to read this, I reread the previous books. No hardship believe me and you will definitely get more out of this if you have read the others but it is not critical as the author does a good job of dripping in bits of previous stories to thread the narrative with back story. Kate is a great character and I really wish she could be happy but happy characters don't have enough drama. Maybe at the end… no spoilers here so I won’t say any more, but this is a great book to continue the Delafield series and I hope it isn’t the last. If it is I thank KVF for 4 decades of brilliant writing and editing and joy.
Carol C. - I loved that the detective is older and flawed, Ms. Forrest once again delivers us a character that you want to love, have coffee with and weep for, along with a true emotional roller-coaster of a story that I want to ride again and again with Det. Delafield.
Jude S. - While this book was a real trip down memory lane for me, all the more so as there are many mentions of the second book in the series, Murder at the Nightwood Bar, Forrest’s writing is still as precise, still as keen as it was when I first read one of her books almost thirty years ago. It’s at once complex and accessible, as are her characters, the plot, the atmosphere. The addition of Dakota the dog brings easy warmth to a bittersweet story of love, mistakes, redemption, and forgiveness. If you’ve never read any of her books, you definitely should.
Henrietta B. - Forrest effortlessly brings us back into the life of now retired detective Delafield. The writing, the depth is outstanding. And no, not all is pretty: the scars of lesbian life in times when you had to hide run deep. I read with anguish about Delafield´s losses. There is love and loss, grief, and redemption. And there is a cold case which needs solving. The novel is aptly named Delafield—it is the sum of her life and maybe the essence of life of many lesbians who grew up in dire times and now enjoy the autumn sun outside the closet. Brilliant!
Betty H. - This is a brilliantly written conclusion to a fantastic mystery series, but I would expect nothing less from an author like Katherine V. Forrest. Just her name on the cover is enough to let the reader know they are about to read something special, and this book lives up to that expectation. We get to see Kate solve another murder mystery, and at the same time watch as she copes with what she has been through, both professionally and personally. This is one of the best character driven novels I’ve read lately.
If you are a Kate Delafield fan, this is the book for you. If you are a character driven mystery buff, then this entire series is definitely for you. That should keep you reading for a while.
“Joe, another one just arrived,” Kate Delafield said, gripping her cell phone as she paced her living room.
“Did you send it on?” Detective Joe Cameron had picked up her call on his private line at Victorville PD as if he’d been waiting for it.
“Hold on a sec…Got it…” He muttered, “Looks like she’s escalating.”
Kate strode to the breakfast bar and looked down at the handwritten note she’d taken out of her mailbox, photographed and forwarded to Cameron. She read it aloud: “‘Any minute now will be your last.’ That’s about as escalated as it gets. Before she kills me of course.”
“Our offer stands.” His voice was harsh with exasperation. “You have your whole police family behind you on this, Kate.”
“I know, I’m grateful. But we both know assigning protection is a waste. She figures to just wait it out.” Nevertheless, and certainly at his behest, patrol cars drifted past her house every few hours. In her view they served only to draw unwanted attention and she felt exposed enough out here in the high desert.
“Yeah, well,” Cameron said, “she might get tired of waiting it out.”
“Joe, I’m armed, alarmed, and on film. This way I won’t endanger anyone else. This way I’m not doing anything different from how you holed up to wait for your brother.” Blunt reminder of the choice he’d made a few years back when she’d helped him protect his family in a cabin not too far from here. “There’s something new, is why I called. A Yucca Valley postmark.”
“Jesus. Did you save the envelope?”
She shook her head at this rote question. “It hardly needs analysis or fingerprinting. We know it’s Ellie Shuster.”
She heard Cameron draw a breath. They’d worked together so many years she held a clear image of him at his desk in the Victorville Patrol Station, unchanged from their days together as homicide detectives at LAPD’s Wilshire Division: his jacket off and hung on the back of his chair, tie loosened, sleeves of a crisp shirt rolled tidily up to the elbow, holding his cell phone to his ear with an index finger, head bent, making notes as he listened. “Kate,” he said, “it’s more than just the envelope and you know it. Coming from out of town, there was always the possibility—”
“—that like most threats they were just threats,” Kate finished for him. She knew better. Had known from the start this was as real as death. “So now she’s right here.”
The missives, this one being number thirteen, had previously been sent from seven different California postmarks in roughly two-week intervals over the past five months, all handwritten in brief, stark variations of the same message: Eleanor Frances Shuster’s only remaining purpose on this earth was to remove Kate Delafield from it.
“At least we can pinpoint some action. Put out another BOLO, check out all the local hotels and motels, distribute a circular with her photo—”
Kate felt a scintilla of hope about a wide area be on the lookout but it faded quickly. There had been no sighting of Ellie Shuster for five months. She had left no electronic footprints; she was now operating untraceably on a cash basis with money awarded to her by the state. She could be anywhere in the high desert, the entire Coachella Valley, even right there in Victorville with Cameron. She could be in disguise. Using her prison connections, she might have arranged for a hitman as proxy, and if so, anyone Kate met on the street could be her killer.
“What’s it been?” he was saying. “Year and a half?”
“About that since her release. Five months and a week since the letters started.”
“What took her so long? That’s what I can’t figure. Even factoring in her wait for the reparations payoff.”
“The rage was building, is my guess.”
“She had nineteen years for that,” he argued. “Kate, you seem way too…I don’t know, unruffled over a case that was a total Torrie Holden fuckup.”
“Believe me, Joe, I’m ruffled. It doesn’t matter about Torrie. I was the D-three, she was a D-one. The case was my responsibility. I suspected she was a fuckup before she proved it the hard way.” Kate flexed the shoulder that reminded her daily of an arrest gone south in every dimension including the death of the seventeen-year-old suspect, and a crossfire bullet that had put her down and on leave for six weeks. A bullet that came from the weapon of then-partner, Torrie Holden. “Besides, Torrie’s out of the frame.” Long since dead of breast cancer.
“It was a strong case even without her mess-up,” Cameron retorted. “Incriminating diary, motive, testimony…”
She gritted her teeth. He would not let go of his determination to persuade her into absolving herself of any blame. Like everyone else, he had no inkling of her actual culpability in Ellie Shuster’s wrongful conviction. She tossed the note back onto the counter, wishing that instead of giving in to her electric fear when she saw the postmark, the need to immediately share with him this newest and most alarming communication, she’d ripped up the goddamn thing and thrown it to the desert winds. She said flatly, “We put the wrong person on death row. Destroyed her marriage. Took nineteen years from her life.”
“The jury did. It took the Innocence Project—”
“Yes, yes, I know.”
“—getting the case reviewed with new evidence and reneged testimony. Which you had no way of knowing back then.”
How many times did he have to repeat all this? She’d read through the trial transcripts and appeals, examined her copy of the murder book innumerable times, run over it in her mind a thousand more times looking for anything that might have been missed. If Ellie Shuster hadn’t done this crime, who did?
“Joe, I know all this and so does she. It makes no difference. She’s out to have someone else know how it feels to have their life torn up the way we did hers. Feel what it’s like to be on death row.”
“Leave Aimee the hell out of this.”
A song from the radio next door suddenly impinged on her consciousness and she involuntarily laughed.
“What is so goddamn funny,” Cameron snapped.
“Music from next door. The Police, ‘Every breath you take, I’ll be watching you.’”
“Yeah, that’s really funny. How’s your sobriety?”
“Holding,” she said shortly, irked by the question, an unwelcome reminder of what had been out of her awareness however momentarily.
“How about I come over to see you tonight?”
“Be glad to see you anytime, Joe. You know that.” She clicked off.
Mostly anytime. Mostly she could do without his useless, hovering anxiety.
She began to pace her house, her go-to routine in confronting the renewed ache and craving for the soul-deep soothe of alcohol. She gazed at the tile flooring, beige tinged with coral, that she’d installed throughout and splashed with woven Native American scatter rugs. At her armchairs-only living room, all four of them in pale pastel shades and with ottomans. The angular glass coffee table and end tables, the mounted TV on a wall she’d painted sunset citrus, the two other walls layered in rough-hewn shelves crowded with books. The kitchen alcove with its breakfast bar, ruthlessly utilitarian as were the two bedrooms, basic bed and dresser in each and with another complement of books. She liked looking at, savoring this house, the first place she’d created just for herself. Never mind the monetary cost, its much higher cost emotionally, everything in here was hers, her choice, no compromise. If her life was to be taken away, let it be here with Joshua trees and desert winds as her companions. And when it happened, just let it be quick.
Infinitesimally lightened by the survey of her house, she moved to the front window and went through her next checklist, the practical one, less comforting. Minimal danger from the left: a rock formation that could be navigated only with boulders noisily breaking loose underfoot. Neighbors to her right, all of them familiar if not personally known to her. Beyond the back deck, a few widely scattered dwellings, then open desert extending for miles to Joshua Tree National Park. Before her, rocky sand patchworked with cactus, cholla, ocotillo; across the road, a purely desert vista of Joshua trees, creosote, chaparral, and brittlebush overseen by the far distant San Bernardino Mountains.
Not in view but much in her awareness were the police-mounted rooftop cameras that rotated front and back of the house and one above the front door, the alarms active on windows and doors. Motion-activated lighting that at night would wash the house in illumination at the approach of an intruder. All of it solid protection unless she left the house. She could be shot on the way to her Jeep. But she was always armed, and the shooter would be starkly visible on this desert landscape. Not that it mattered. She guessed that Ellie Shuster, if she performed the act herself, would want to be clearly visible whenever she finally acted.
Kate was in the kitchen removing the cap on a bottle of Teavana iced tea when a vehicle drove up. No mistaking that it had stopped in her driveway; she heard every sound with distinct clarity here in a silence broken only by capricious wind, the drone of an occasional aircraft, the song track from next door. Moments later a knock at her door.
Ellie Shuster, finally coming to kill her?