A break from the norm today as I post about an interesting read I’ve come across by a fellow Indie Author. In the Shadows by Susan Finlay is a murder mystery with a bit of a difference. Set in the small village of Reynier, in France, the story revolves around a mysterious gypsy woman, presumed to be a thief by the locals, and a sometime-detective who has turned to writing mystery novels after losing his job (and wife). This rather different premise–I love a murder mystery that doesn’t revolve around a conventional detective–coupled with Finlay’s distinct writing style, make for an excellent read. I could harp on about it some more, but I’ve decided to let you judge for yourself by posting an excerpt (courtesy of the author. Thanks, Susan).
MAURA BARRINGTON PULLED back the curtain and stared out the second story window of her shabby hotel room in Paris’ 18th arrondissment. A young couple strolled by, pushing a pram. They stopped and the woman bent forward to check on the baby. When she straightened, the man with her reached over and tucked a loose lock of her hair behind her ear.
Maura let the curtain fall back in place. She turned to look at the bed where her new clothes lay strewn about, waiting to be packed away in her duffel bag. Two days ago, her first day in Paris, she’d spent all her time observing people and figuring out what she needed to wear to blend in. Yesterday, she’d gone shopping.She picked up one outfit, a blue-and-green flowered blouse and coordinating skirt, and took it into the bathroom. After she got dressed, she copied the woman’s hair style—a classic French twist. Lastly, she stuck her feet into the stiff high heels, put away the rest of the clothes, and zipped up the bag. On impulse, she reopened her duffel bag, lifted the false bottom, and verified everything was still there. She hid the bag under the bed and left the room, locking the door carefully. Following the worn red carpet down the creaking staircase, she stopped at the next to last landing, where the musty darkness mixed with a smell she couldn’t quite identify. The hotel felt abandoned. Continuing, she reached the ground floor and was about to step into the dingy hallway when a door directly across from the stairs swung open, startling her. In the doorway a big-bellied man with greasy hair stared at her. His deep-set eyes swept over her, and he grinned widely. Maura hurried past him along the corridor, her footsteps echoing on the cracked tiles, but not loudly enough to cover up the sound of his laughter. A brown mouse darted in front of her and ran under the sofa in the lobby.
Outside, she rushed down the worn steps, but had to stop at the street curb to wait for a string of cars to go by. A ragged-looking dog wandered up to her and sat down beside her as she waited. When the light changed, Maura lifted a foot to step off the curb, but the dog barked loudly, causing her to hesitate. In the next instant, a bus zoomed through the red light and past her, sending a gray plume of exhaust spiraling into the air. Maura swore under her breath. She whirled around toward the dog, but it was already gone.
She crossed the street and walked two blocks, rounded the corner onto bustling Boulevard de Barbès, and continued on to Chateau Rouge train station. It was one of the poorer areas, populated by African and Arab immigrants, yet it was vibrant and alive. As Maura walked through the train station, the frequent train announcements, clatter of metal, and odor of dust and rubber brought to mind London’s underground system, a place she practically knew by heart. She stopped and closed her eyes, savoring the vision of what she would never again see for real, until someone bumped against her. Her eyes popped open. Instinctively, she wrapped protective hands around her handbag, and scanned the area.
Maura proceeded to the platform and found her train already waiting. In the process of rushing aboard the train, something snagged one of her heels causing her to stumble. She almost fell into a man’s lap. “Pardon,” she muttered as she pulled herself together, trying to hide her embarrassment. Once seated near the rear of the train, she glanced cautiously at the people around her. Everyone was busy reading papers or typing text messages on their mobile phones. She removed her shoes and checked the heels to make sure they weren’t damaged. Thankfully the shoes were intact. High heels might be fashionable, but she despised wearing them.
When the train eased to a stop at the Montparnasse station, she exited and climbed the stairs, emerging into the pleasant air of early evening. Ten minutes later, she stood in front of Le Bistro du Nord, an attractive restaurant occupying the ground floor of a tall brick building. On the outside patio, customers sat at silver tables shaded by the building’s dark-green awning, enjoying their dinners and drinks. Her French, though not good enough to pass as a native-speaker, was good enough for a bar job. But she was far from confident in her ability to wait tables well enough for Paris. She took a deep breath, steeled herself, slid past the tables, and entered the bistro. At the hostess station, she greeted the attendant.
“Table for one, or are you meeting someone?”
“Oh, I’m not a customer. I saw the advertisement for a waitress position. I’d like to apply if it’s still available.”
The hostess, a slender blonde woman with tanned skin and shimmering lip gloss, looked her over critically. “Of course.” She bent down, and pulled out an application from a drawer at the station. “Please have a seat in the bar area and fill this out. Be sure to return it to me when you’ve finished.”
“Merci.” With the form in hand, Maura turned, and stepped right into the path of a waiter. His quick reflexes avoided a crash, but Maura felt heat rise up her neck, instantly embarrassed. Fortunately, other than the grumbling waiter, no one else seemed to notice.
She stood for a few moments and surveyed the dining room. Judging from the customers, it was classy enough to lure in couples wanting a romantic dinner and business men and women wanting a neutral place to meet with clients, and yet relaxed enough to bring in families with young children. A waitress breezed past her, expertly balancing a tray of several attractive plates of food. The aromas made Maura’s stomach growl, and reminded her of her meager lunch that had consisted of a stale roll, a chunk of cheese, and tea.
Overall, the bistro was rather dark, lit only by its lovely ornate stained glass lamps hanging over each table and by the light bouncing off its mirrored walls. Shouts and raucous laughter drew her attention. Against the farthest wall, illuminated by dozens of candles, was a gorgeous sculpted wooden bar, so highly polished that it shimmered in the candlelight. Glasses of all shapes and sizes lining the wall behind the bar sparkled like stars in the flickering light. A group of at least a dozen men and women were gathered around the far end of the bar, the apparent source of the shouting and laughter.
Moving to the bar area as she was instructed, she selected one of the few empty tables and sat down with her back to a large television screen. After spreading out the three-page application form, she withdrew a pen from her handbag and began filling in the form. For her name she wrote Anouk Allard, and gave the hotel’s address.
Meanwhile, more people arrived nearby, after which several explosive bursts of laughter firing in machine gun fashion, distracted her. Maybe she should move to the dining room, she thought. But when she glanced toward the hostess who had specifically sent her to this area, she squashed the idea.
Halfway through filling out her application, she took a break and glanced around her. Her attention fell onto the back of an English newspaper that the man sitting next to her was reading. She scanned the page and stopped abruptly, recognizing a photograph of herself. A gasp escaped her. The man turned and glanced at her. With her heart pounding, she folded up the application and tucked it inside her handbag, scooted back her chair, stood up, and as quickly as she could manage without drawing attention, walked tall and confidently toward the door.
Susan describes herself as loving writing, blogging, traveling, and taking photos. She was born in Germany, but grew up in the U.S. A mother of two grown children, she lives in Missouri with her husband and their three cats. Before becoming an author, Susan worked in bank auditing and in a bank department that investigated suspicious activity. She is currently working on her third novel, while her second title, Where Secrets Reside, also an Outsiders Mystery, was released last month and is now available on Kindle and in Paperback.
You can find Susan at any of the following: