The Sydney St. John Mysteries Book 1
by Cary Osborne
In Oklahoma, spring brings storms raging across the American prairie, too often spawning tornadoes that lash the land. But this spring Sydney St. John finds herself fighting for her life against another danger, one from the past. When her intern's body is discovered in the archives processing room, everyone wants to believe the girl's death was an accident or a horrible mistake. But Sydney sets out to discover whether the cruel murder of today resulted from another crime committed nearly seventy years earlier, searching for clues as only an archivist can. Her search leads her to another danger, different, in the person of Ben Bartlett, grandson of the creator of the very collection at the center of the mystery. Is he to be her lover? Or her murderer?
OKLAHOMA WINDS is an engrossing thriller that reveals the inexorable links present-day events (and crimes) always have to the past. We are forever connected to the history that brought us to where we are now, and unraveling the tangled truths of that history can shed a brilliant light on who we have become. Yes, OKLAHOMA WINDS is a murder mystery, and a fascinating one. But it's also a testament to the power of the past over our lives. Having had some experience with research librarians and archivists, I've always known they were some of the most brilliant (yet unsung) detectives among us . . . and the protagonist of OKLAHOMA WINDS is long-overdue proof of that. Sydney St. John does for archivists what Indiana Jones did for archaeologists -- and I can't wait to see what mysteries she'll tackle next!
--Brad Denton, author of Blackburn and Sergeant Chip
Brownie whined from under the chair and Bartlett reached down to pat the old dog’s head. She was part hound, part German shepherd, and a few other parts thrown in. They had been together for eight months and she was old and weary. In spite of her age and arthritis, Brownie kept up, refusing to take a day off. But tonight, she took advantage of her species and had curled up under the chair, snoring every so often, but rarely shifting position. When she did, she moaned with the pain in her joints.
Bartlett wished he could curl up somewhere, too, particularly in his tent set up in the field behind the general store. But as sleepy as he felt, he knew he would not be able to sleep. He did feel responsible for the girl’s disappearance, even though he had no idea where she had gotten to. She wasn’t old enough to run off with a beau and it didn’t seem likely that she would want to sabotage the movie, for her own sake if not for others.
The deputy came up to the sheriff and handed him pieces of paper that looked like telegrams. Clyde unfolded them and read only a moment. He looked from Bartlett, who had leaned forward so the chair rocked to sit on all four legs, to the crowd of townspeople. The sheriff moved to the edge of the porch.
"Listen everyone." All eyes turned to look at him. "We just got some telegrams from some of the towns where Bartlett says he made other movies before coming here. They verify he was there and nothing untoward occurred."
"There's always a first time," someone yelled from the crowd.
"Be that as it may, we have no real reason to think he did anything with Violet. The other sheriffs say he always worked alone, except for that dog of his."
Brownie raised her head, whimpered, and went back to sleep.
Oklohoma Winter: Black Ice The Sydney St. John Mysteries Book 2
Oklahoma, the state that ranks second as most dangerous in the U.S. when it comes to weather. Too often, the wind comes sweeping down the plain, with a vengeance. In winter, black ice glides onto the roads, barely seen, and when the wheels of a vehicle run onto it, a driver had best beware.
It’s winter in Oklahoma, and Sydney St. John finds murder among the papers of the Filmore County Historical Archives. The collection is that of Carl Blair, rancher, politician, father, and husband, who ruled his land and his family without the need for compassion, or love. Although gone these many years, his grandchildren and Lawrence, his only surviving son, still suffer from his cruelty and heavy hand. It's Sydney who must untangle the web that begins with racism and murder. Ben Bartlett her lover, still living in California, is helpless to save her from natural disasters and festering family hatred.
Sydney stumbled into a particularly dense thicket. Thrashing around, she tried to turn back and find a way around it. In the midst of the noise of fighting the brush, a new sound came to her. An animal sound. Something snuffling, then dry leaves and brush crackling under heavy feet.
The noise came from behind and slightly to her right. Pinpoints of sunlight came through the branches overhead and as she watched, a form shook itself. More snuffling as it moved toward her at an angle. Did it sense her?
It snorted as if in answer and stood still. Should she run? Try to move away quietly – impossible under the circumstances. Or stand very still and hope it went away.
Whatever it was, it was wild or feral and probably dangerous. Maybe a bear or a wild hog, which she understood lived in the state. Maybe, even, a feral dog, but its dark form seemed too bulky for that.
It turned away from her at a sound in the brush farther to the right.
Go. Get whatever it is, she urged silently.
It raised its head and tested the air, snuffling loudly.
With its attention diverted, Sydney took a careful step forward. There was no longer time to try to get around the dense thicket ahead of her. She was determined to plow through it at a rush, hoping not to fall. She pushed off her back foot and began running . . . branches stung as they slapped her cheek, her forehead . . . .
In spite of the noise she was making, she could hear the animal behind, crashing through the brush, pushing her to desperate speed. She decided that the thing was a wild boar. She’d read stories of what one could do to a person if roused, but never heard of any in Oklahoma. This one must have been wakened by her progress through the underbrush and he sounded in a foul mood.
Saving Souls The Sydney St. John Mysteries Book 3
Sydney St. John, still living and working in Gansel, Oklahoma, hopes to never be involved in a murder investigation again. She plans on being content with organizing the historical documents in the Filmore County Historical Archives. But when Patrick O’Kelley, preaching to no one on the corner opposite the archives in twenty-degree weather, is found murdered, her curiosity once again gets the better of her.
The facts she discovers lead her to hidden gold, oil rights, and Edward Capeheart O’Kelley, the man who shot Bob Ford, Jesse James’s killer. What does the murder in the late 1800s have to do with Patrick O’Kelley’s death in the 21st century?
As she began closing things down, she realized that the preacher was silent. Was he done for the day? Most likely, as the temperature was already dropping further. Was he coming back tomorrow? Not that it mattered. She was curious enough to think of going across to introduce herself and ask his name. Maybe the next time she saw Otis, she might ask him. That was her stock in trade: curiosity and seeking information.
She gathered her things together, turned out the lights, and turned the night lights on. She set the alarm, then gathered her coat more tightly around her as she stepped out the side door to the parking lot. First thing she noticed was that the pickup truck still sat on the other corner.
Guess he’s just folded his tent, she thought. Must be inside the truck, trying to get warm.
But there was no sign of exhaust nor engine noise. The depth of the cold made sound seem sharper, so if the vehicle was running, she would hear it.
She shrugged and pressed the remote unlock button on the CR-V. Opening the back door, she put her bags on the seat. As she started to close the door, she heard a sound, a moan. She turned toward the street and made out a black mound lying on the ground near the rear wheel of the pickup. Immediately suspicious, she reached into her purse on the seat and grabbed her cell phone. She closed the car door and walked across the street to investigate.
The glow from the street light wasn’t bright enough to see the figure clearly, but in the glow from the flashlight on her phone, she could see that it was the preacher lying there. She dialed 9-1-1, then knelt down to see if there was a pulse. Checking the carotid first, she detected nothing. His skin was cool. He’d been dead only a short while, she guessed.
When the emergency operator came on line, she asked for an ambulance and the sheriff. She stamped her feet, trying to keep them from going numb while she waited.
It wasn’t long before Sheriff Otis pulled up in his black SUV. He got out and walked over to her.
“Not again, Sydney.”
Cary Osborne has been writing for more than two decades, delving into many genres including science fiction, fantasy, mystery, horror, and romance. Having once been told that there aren't enough generalists in the world, and having an interest in many worldly aspects, makes it difficult to settle into a single mold. Ancient history, being one of those interests, she uses her studies in the subjects and backgrounds for her stories, both long and short.
Can you, for those who don't know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
Unlike many authors, I didn’t begin writing seriously until I was in my 40s. I’ve always been a big reader and being a writer seemed to follow naturally. And I did get a few short pieces published when I was in my 30s. When the city recreation department in the town where I lived offered a writing class, I decided to try it. That turned into a writers’ group and led to my first pro sale, a short story titled “Monster McGill” in the first Women of Darkness anthology.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
Unlike most people, I have always enjoyed being in school. Some of my friends think I’m crazy.
Where were you born/grew up at?
I was born in Tennessee. I was – or am – an army brat, so I grew up all over the country and lived two years in France. That’s probably one reason why my tastes in reading and writing are eclectic.
Who is your hero and why?
Historically, I’ve always been attracted to Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was queen of France and England in the eleventh century, mother of Richard the Lionheart and King John. She was a strong woman in an age when women were marginalized most of the time.
In my own life, I once worked with a woman who had three jobs, was a mother, and was one of the gentlest, most positive people I’ve ever known. I admired her calm nature very much.
Do you have a favorite movie?
I believe it was made in the 1980s, titled The Earthling. Because I’m a big fan of science fiction, most of my friends think it’s sf, but it’s a coming of age story. I think it was William Holden’s last movie, Ricky Schroeder was the young boy, set in Australia. The sad thing is, I’ve never been able to find a copy of it on DVD.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
My first novels were a sf trilogy titled Iroshi, The Glaive, and Persea. I’ve always imagined them being made into an anime film. That would be awesome.
What inspired you to write this series?
For several years, I worked as an archivist. That’s someone sort of like a librarian – most people in the field have degrees in library science – but an archivist processes collections of papers and memorabilia created by people, companies, families, educational entities, etc. I loved the work. I’m an organizer by nature and working on a collection of papers so that researchers can access them is perfect for me. It’s amazing what one finds in such collections.
And that’s what Sydney St. John does. She finds information that is dangerous, something that the descendants or others involved in the story want to keep hidden. They’ll do anything to keep even her from reading it, much less the authorities.
What did you enjoy most about writing these books?
One of the fun things was, and still is, doing the research necessary for the novels. Since the story actually begins in the past, and I want an historical flavor to each story, I need to read Oklahoma history, where the characters and stories occur. Each novel has some basis in actual history. Then the story moves into the present where past events present problems for descendants.
Can you tell us a little bit about the characters in Sydney St. John mysteries?
Like me, Sydney has lived in a lot of different places. She isn’t an army brat; her father worked for a large, unspecified, international company, like G.E. or IBM. She was married once; her husband died. They were very much in love. She’s been a widow for twelve years. Yes, she’s middle aged, the sort of woman character not much seen in fiction. She’s driven by curiosity, the need to know, and a strong sense of justice.
The man she falls in love with, Ben Bartlett, is a tax accountant living in the Los Angeles area. They met in the first book, Oklahoma Winds, when she was working on his grandfather’s papers. Sydney is satisfied with a long-distance romance, but Ben wants them to live together, mostly in L.A. She, however, loves her job and doesn’t want to leave the archives. The situation may be resolved in the fourth book, but I haven’t decided how that will happen.
Have you written any other books that are not published?
Oh, yes. There’s Cross Over the River, a Civil War alternate history. Remember, a modern-day romance with a touch of magic realism. A science fiction romance, titled The Blue Man. Checkout, a suspense, trapped-in-the-shopping-mall novel. And several fits and starts.
Is there a writer whose brain you would love to pick for advice? Who would that be and why?
Although I do talk with him every so often, one author whose work and attitude I admire is Joe Lansdale. He is a prolific writer with the most vivid prose. His stories come alive in a way I can only envy. He writes all sorts of fiction, from young adult to gory horror. His Hap and Leonard series has been made into a TV series.
Fun Facts/Behind the Scenes/Did You Know?-type tidbits about the book or the writing process of the book.
When I was trying to decide where to place the archive and Sydney’s story, I wanted a town name that wasn’t known. You know, the names of streets, the directions they go in, etc., can’t be wrong since they don’t actually exist. The history of the town I can make up. I looked through a book of ghost towns and pulled up maps on the computer. I came across a single mention of a town named Gansel. I managed to zero in on north-central Oklahoma on Google Maps. There was nothing there. I even got my husband to drive out there one Saturday. It was a railroad crossing with a few houses to one side. Nothing else. It was perfect. A name that once existed, that no one had ever heard of, at least anyone I told about it. I could populate it, give it a history, design the buildings and streets. It was mine. Well, it was Sydney’s.
How long have you been writing?
Over 40 years. Although I didn’t get published right away, I wrote a lot before then. It took seven years to get my first novel, Iroshi, published. Before that, I’d had several short stories published.
Do the characters all come to you at the same time or do some of them come to you as you write?
Since I always begin a story with an idea, the characters come along as I write. My main character is always a woman. Being a woman, I can understand them better than I do men, although I quite often have romantic entanglements and will write from a male character’s POV.
What book do you think everyone should read?
There are so many. In horror, the one book I would recommend is Grendel by John Gardner. It’s wonderfully scary. Mainstream, To Kill a Mockingbird. That novel blew me away. In science fiction, a little known, short novel, The Soul Eater by Mike Resnick. Also, Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede by Bradley Denton. It’s a really fun read. In history, I love the Ohio Valley series by Alan Eckert. They’re narrative history which makes them very readable. I just realized those are all older works, but they are still so very readable.
More modern works, especially mysteries, I love the Inspector Gamache series by Louise Penny. The Comissario Brunetti mystery series by Donna Leon is lots of fun and the reader learns a lot about Venice. In nonfiction, Hidden Figures, that was made into a movie, is an excellent read.
Do you prefer to write in silence or with noise? Why?
I’ve found that I can’t really write in silence. Every morning, during the week, I have coffee and something to eat at a local coffee shop and work for 3-4 hours. I feel very lucky that they don’t mind my taking up a table for that long, but no matter how busy they are, I always find room.
Do you write one book at a time or do you have several going at a time?
Several. When I finish one book, I work on another, while I let the finished work cool. At one time I had six different books going at the same time, but that wasn’t a good thing. I’d sit with my fingers on the keyboard and wonder which novel I should be working on. Two or three at one time is manageable. Writing in several genres helps a lot with that. I also work on short stories along with the novels. I don’t write as many short works as I used to, but I love that format and want to keep my hand in, not to mention a kind of instant gratification at finishing a piece; that takes longer with novel-length works.
What is your writing process? For instance do you do an outline first? Do you do the chapters first?
I’ve always been a pantser, someone who writes a novel straight through, no outline, no synopsis until it’s done. Someone once said that she wrote to see how the story ends. That’s me.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
I believe there are times when a writer finds it difficult, or nearly impossible, to write. Life interferes in so many ways. Some people are better at working through such things. Too many people believe that writing is not only a hobby for most people, but that anyone can do it. It takes a lot of discipline to sit down at the computer every day, working alone, putting words down in the right sequence. Sometimes those words don’t come or each word is pulled out of the mind kicking and screaming.
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