Judy Penz Sheluk releases “Past & Present: A Marketville Mystery”

E. Michael Helms

My review of Judy Penz Sheluk’s Past & Present: A Marketville Mystery

By E. Michael Helms

pnp3Thirteen months after inheriting her father’s home with the strange caveat that she solve her mother’s thirty year old cold-case murder, Calamity “Callie” Barnstable has decided to put down roots in Marketville. Case finally solved,  Callie’s quit her banking job in Toronto, leased her cozy condo to a former co-worker, hired her hunky new next door neighbor to renovate her unkempt inherited domicile, and—spurred on by the success of her first case—she’s opened her own PI business: Past & Present Investigations. As the name suggests, P&P’s specialty will be solving not only present-day cases, but also cold cases from the past that have been shelved and largely forgotten.

With plans to sell her refurbished inherited house, Callie sets up shop in a Victorian home/office located in a posh Marketville neighborhood. Chantelle Marchand, Callie’s best…

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My review of author E. Denise Billups’ new thriller, KALORAMA ROAD

Do you remember what happened at 1414 Kalorama Road?”

Having recently lost her dream job as an editor at a major New York publishing house, kalorama-roadAllison “Allie” Bertrand reads once again the mysterious email that appears on her mobile phone like clockwork the same time each month. This disturbing message has been delivered for over a year, beginning soon after the night Allie–against her better judgment–accepted an Emsworth University classmate’s invitation to attend an off-campus party.

Allie hardly knows the attractive blonde, aside from sharing a couple of classes with her. But what harm could come from a night out? As it turns out, a lot. At the party Allie sips a drink while noticing most of the men in attendance are years older than the young ladies. Allie soon knows something is amiss. She feels woozy and can barely keep her balance. She wanders up a staircase, searching for a bathroom. Stumbling into a dark room, she feels herself falling, striking her head as she passes out.

Now, two years later, Allie still can recall almost nothing about what happened that night except a fleeting sense of someone–a young man she believes–carrying her downstairs, through hallways, and eventually outside. The next morning she awakens in her dorm room with no recollection of what occurred the night before. And then the ominous messages begin arriving: “What happened at 1414 Kalorama Road?”

With that foundation, author E. Denise Billups takes the reader on a wild and harrowing rollercoaster ride, building the storyline with layer upon layer of suspense, mystery, doubt, drama, and the chilling realization that someone, somehow, just might be trying to reach Allison Bertrand from beyond the grave. Using a handful of narrators, Billups keeps the reader turning pages at a fast clip. Just when you think you have things figured out, yet another sharp turn proves you wrong. You’re holding on tightly and wondering where and how this hair-raising ride will end. Billups keeps cranking up the tension with skillful storytelling reminiscent of a chilling Alfred Hitchcock movie.

So, what did happen at 1414 Kalorama Road? Read this book and find out. You won’t regret it.

(4.5 out of 5 stars due to some editing distractions)


About the Author

An author with a rare mixture of Southern and Northern charm, E. Denise Billups was born in Monroeville, Alabama, (hometown of writers Truman Capote and Harper Lee) and raised in New York City where she currently resides and works in finance. A burgeoning author of fiction, she’s published three suspense novels, Kalorama Road, Chasing Victory, By Chance, and two supernatural short stories, Rebound, and The Playground. An avid reader of mystery and suspense novels, she was greatly influenced by authors of that genre. When she’s not writing or reading, you can generally find her training for road races and marathons. She’s s a fitness fanatic who loves physical challenges of all types (running, biking, yoga, dance, and more) a discipline she uses to facilitate the creative writing process.


Denise Cropped for Wix


Book Links





Kalorama Road: Enticing, Suspenseful and Wonderfully Thrilling

Jina S. Bazzar

Kalorama Road, by E. Denise Billups

Goodreads synopsis:
There something Allie can’t remember, hidden memories bordering consciousness that refuse to surface until one day someone, something, ignites horrifying images of a forgotten night.

A year after graduating from Emsworth University, a mysterious email appears asking Allie one single question. What happened at 1414 Kalorama Road? Allie has no memory of that night and has tried to recapture what happened when a classmate went missing at an off-campus party. Someone wants her to remember, and they’re getting closer and more insistent. Forgotten memories gradually start to surface with gruesome images and a revelation that could ruin the reputation of her esteemed alma mater, Emsworth University.

Kindle edition: 277 pages
Published Jan 31st, 2018

I made the mistake of picking up this book when I still had a couple articles to finish for the magazine. Luckily for me, I didn’t need…

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Editing a Manuscript to Death

A couple of years or so ago I was seeking a new publisher for my Mac McClellan Mystery deadlyseries. Despite very good reviews the previous publisher decided to cut-back their “private eye” series to focus more on legal, medical, and international thrillers (or so I was informed). With a couple of new books in the McClellan series already completed, my agent and I set out to find a new home for the retired Marine sleuth before an extended absence caused readers of the first two books to forget about Mac and Kate Bell, Mac’s squeeze and sometimes Girl Friday.

While my (then) agent beat the bigger bushes, I began querying small and mid-size houses in hopes of finding that gem in the haystack of the publishing world. Within a few days a small press (who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons) its-a-mysterycontacted me, requesting the full manuscript which I promptly sent. They were a startup house with two published books–one by him, and one by his wife. But you never know; it could’ve been an opportunity to get into something good from the ground floor. Fast forward a couple of weeks:

“We love good mysteries, and this is a very good mystery! But . . .” (ellipsis added by me).

What followed was a list of “major problems” with the manuscript, and the editor’s ideas of how to fix this, that, and the other. Ultimately, his suggestions amounted to an entire overhaul/rewrite of the manuscript.

My initial thought? Not going to happen! My reasons were sound. Without going into endless detail, trust me when I say I wondered if the guy had read the same book I’d written. Every issue he had, be it with the plot or otherwise, I came back with a logical explanation. I’ll give a few examples and leave it at that:bad_guy

(Editor): The bad guy is brought in way too late. You’re not playing fair with your readers. Have him show up early.

(Me): Um, the bad guy strikes in Chapter Two. His/her identity isn’t revealed then, but he/she does make an offstage appearance by murdering his/her first victim in Chapter Two. He/she strikes again and again later in the story just to stay in the picture before he/she is finally revealed. Is Chapter Two really “way too late?”

(Editor): Your backstory is overwhelming.


(Editor): I realize this is a series and you can’t retell the whole backstory on that but give us enough to explain why the character and the relationship is important.confused1

(Me): Huh? First my backstory is overwhelming, and in the editor’s next breath I’m being asked to give more backstory? Hmm, am I missing something here?

(Editor): You have a huge amount of clichés in here; get rid of all of them.

(Me): I counted eight of what could be considered true clichés. Eight. My protagonist, Macavoid-cliches1 McClellan, has a sense of humor, and he will occasionally use a “dreaded” cliché in conversation or to make a point. People use clichés in real life. I choose not to ban all clichés. Don’t fill up your manuscript with them (unless it’s a book about clichés), but don’t treat them as anathema, either.

(Editor): Semi-colons and ellipses should be cut. (I love them, too, and when I write, I keep them all in until the last edit and cut them out.)

(Me): Since when should all semi-colons and ellipses be cut? Who made that rule? Instead of an ellipsis to indicate a pause in conversation, should I use (beat) instead? Okay, don’t overdue either, but sometimes compound sentences are called for, and what the heck is wrong with an occasional ellipsis? That’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it.

(Editor): Get rid of all the bad words that are nothing but busy noise (just, very, pretty, repetitive wordsreally, still, some, perhaps, maybe, which, since, etc.)

(Me): Are you kidding me? ALL of them? Wow, talk about dry, boring dialogue, especially if your book or characters are located in the South. Okay, per the usual unspoken writing rule, don’t overuse these words and others so that they jump off the page at you, or every character says these words over and over. But get rid of all of them? Really? I think not.

Here is the shocking conclusion to this semi writing rant: I told this editor and his publishing house “No thanks.” And a short time later my agent landed a new home for the next four books in the Mac McClellan Mystery series. The lesson? You are the writer; (oops, semi-colon, sorry!) you know your characters, you know where your book is going, and you are not averse to listening to sound advice from a competent editor. But watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing (oops, cliché!) that lurk out there in the publishing world. Don’t destroy your book at another’s whim. After all, it’s your baby, not theirs.