HER SISTER’S DEATH by K.L. Murphy
GENRE: Mystery/Psychological Suspense
PUBLISHER: CamCat Books
RELEASE DATE: December 13, 2022
She wanted the truth. She should have known better.
When her sister is found dead in a Baltimore hotel room, reporter Val Ritter’s world is turned upside down. What’s worse—an empty pill bottle at the scene leads the police to believe the cause of death is suicide. With little more than her own conviction, Val teams up with a retired detective who has his own personal interest in the case.
But digging into the corners of her sister’s life and retracing her last days, will lead them to the hotel’s dark, sordid history. In 1921, another guest on the brink of womanhood, will soon marry an eligible older man, sure to be a comfortable match—or is it?
With time running short, Val races to uncover the truth behind her connection to the woman in 1921, and the detective who knows more than he should about her sister, the hotel, and its sinister secrets.
Readers of my blog may want to be aware that there is moderate use of strong cursing and religious profanity throughout this novel. There are also some disturbing scenes of domestic abuse, though these are not presented in a gratuitous manner.
The below excerpt is free from both.
I take a closer look at the man. “Are you a doctor?”
He half laughs. “Hardly. Detective. Former, I mean. I never quite got the hang of talking to the victims’ families without putting my foot in my mouth. Seems I’ve done it again.”
My curiosity gets the best of me. He’s not much older than I am. Mid-forties. Maybe younger. Definitely too young for retirement. “Former detective? What do you do now?”
“I run a security firm.” He lifts his shoulders. “It’s different, has its advantages.”
The way he says it, I know he misses the job. I understand. “I write for the Baltimorean. Mostly homicides,” I say. “That’s a good paper. I’ve probably read your work then.”
Crumpling the empty cracker wrapper, I say, “I’m sorry I dumped on you out there.”
He shrugs again. “It’s okay. You had a good reason.” I can’t think of anything to say to that.
“How did she die, if you don’t mind my asking?”
The question hits me hard. What I mind is that my sister is gone. My hands ball into fists. The heater in the room hums, but otherwise, it’s quiet. “They say she died by suicide.”
The man doesn’t miss a beat. “But you don’t believe it.” He watches me, his body still.
My heart pounds in my chest and I reach into my mind, searching for any information I’ve found that contradicts what I’ve been told. I’ve learned that almost fifty thousand people a year die by suicide in the United States. Strangely, a number of those people choose to do it in hotels. Maybe it’s the anonymity. Maybe it’s to spare the families. There are plenty of theories, but unfortunately, one can’t really ask the departed about that. Still, the reasoning is sound enough. For four days, I’ve read until I can’t see, and my head has dropped from exhaustion. I know that suicide can be triggered by traumatic events or chronic depression. It can be triggered by life upheaval or can be drug induced, or it can happen for any number of reasons that even close family and friends don’t know about until after—if ever. I know all this, and yet, I can’t accept it.
Sylvia was found in a hotel room she had no reason to be in. An empty pill bottle was found on the nightstand next to her. She checked in alone. Nothing in the room had been disturbed. Nothing appeared to have been taken. For all these reasons, the police made a preliminary determination that the cause of death was suicide, the final ruling to be made after the ME’s report. I know all this. My parents and Sylvia’s husband took every word of this at face value. But I can’t. Sylvia is not a statistic, and I know something they don’t.
“No. I don’t believe it.” I say, meeting his steady gaze with my own.
He doesn’t react. He doesn’t tell me I’m crazy. He doesn’t say “I’m sorry” again. Nothing. I’m disappointed, though I can’t imagine why. He’s a stranger to me. Still, I press my shoulder blades against the back of the chair, waiting. I figure it out then. Former detective. I’ve been around enough cops to know how it works. It’s like a tribe with them. You don’t criticize another officer. You don’t question anyone’s toughness or loyalty to the job. You don’t question a ruling that a case doesn’t warrant an investigation, much less that it isn’t even a case. So, I sit and wait. I will not be the first to argue. It doesn’t matter that he’s retired and left the job. He’s still one of them. In fact, the more I think about it, I can’t understand why he’s still sitting there. I’ve been rude to the man. I’ve completely broken down in front of him like some helpless idiot. And now, I’ve suggested the cause of death that everyone—and I mean everyone—says is true is not the truth at all.
He gets up, shoves his hands in his pockets.
This is it. He’s done with me now. In less than one minute he’ll be gone and, suddenly, I don’t want him to leave. I break the silence.
“I’m Val Ritter.” “Terry Martin.”
I turn the name over in my brain. It’s familiar in a vague way. “Terry the former detective.”
“Uh-huh.” He shifts his weight from one foot to the other. “Look, I’m sorry about your sister. You’ve lost someone you love, and the idea that she might have taken her own life is doubly distressing.”
“I’m way past distressed. I’m angry.”
“Is it possible that you’re directing that anger toward the ones that ruled her death a suicide instead of at your . . .” His words fall away.
“My sister?” “Yes.”
“I might be if I thought she did this.” I cross my arms over my chest. “But I don’t. This idea, this thing they’re saying makes no sense at all.”
Terry the former detective’s voice is low, soothing. “Why?”
My arms drop again. I’m tempted to tell him everything I know, which admittedly isn’t much, but I hold back. This man is a stranger. Sure, he’s been nice, and every time I’ve expected him to walk out the door, he’s done the opposite. But that doesn’t mean I can trust him.
“I’m sorry if my question seems insensitive,” he says. His voice is soft, comforting in a neutral way, and I can picture him in an interrogation. He would be the good cop. “No matter how shocking the, uh, idea might be, I have a feeling you have your reasons. You were close—you and your sister?” “We were.” I sit there, twisting the handkerchief in my fingers. The heater makes a revving noise, drops back to a steady hum. “We talked all the time, and I can tell you she wasn’t depressed. That’s what they kept saying. ‘She must have been depressed.’ I know people hide things, but she was never good at hiding her emotions from me. If anything, she’d been happier than ever.” I give a slow shake of my head. “They tried to tell me about the other suicide and about the pills and the sign on the door and—” I stop. I hear myself rambling and force myself to take a breath. “If something had been wrong, I would have known.”
Terry the former detective doesn’t react, doesn’t move. He keeps his mouth shut, but I know. He doesn’t believe me, same as all the others. I can tell. There is no head bob or leading question. He thinks I’m in denial and that I will eventually accept the truth. He doesn’t know me at all.
The minutes pass, and I drink the water. I realize I feel better. It’s time to leave. “I should be going.” I hold up the crumpled rag in my hand. “Sorry I did such a number on your handkerchief. I can clean it, send it to you later.”
He waves off the suggestion. “Keep it.”
I gather my items and apologize again. “Sorry you had to witness my meltdown out there.”
I’m headed out the door, my hand on the knob, when he breaks protocol.
“What did you mean by ‘the other suicide’?”
From Her Sister’s Death © 2022, K.L. Murphy, published by CamCat Books. Used by permission.
K. L. Murphy is the author of the Detective Cancini Mystery Series: A Guilty Mind, Stay of Execution, and The Last Sin. Her short stories are featured in the anthologies Deadly Southern Charm (“Burn”) and Murder by the Glass (“EverUs”). She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Sisters in Crime, James River Writers, and Historical Writers of America. K. L. lives in Richmond, VA, with her husband, children, and amazing dogs. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, entertain friends, catch up on everything she ignored, and always—walk the amazing dogs.
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