Retired Chief Petty Officer Tom Jones was murdered in his apartment complex in Orlando in what appeared to be a “drug deal gone bad.” The police won’t even do an autopsy on a dead drug dealer. Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Joe Traynor is asked by Tom’s daughter to look into his death. His investigation ultimately leads to the largest meth case on the southeastern seaboard. In the meantime, the Russian Mafia, unhappy with being ripped off by Julie Chapman’s father, seek revenge. Her father’s death, once again comes back to haunt her and her grandmother, Tillie, placing their lives—and Joe’s—in danger once again.

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Can’t Sing or Dance by Daniel J. Barrett, Joe Traynor is back, this time trying to solve the murder of a friend and fellow Coastie, who the cops say is a drug dealer. Joe refuses to believe that his old mentor in the Coast Guard is a drug dealer and he is determined to clear the man’s name. His investigation, however, uncovers something much more sinister than just “drug deal gone bad,” and puts Joe’s life, and those of his friends’ in danger.

Can’t Sing or Dance is a good sequel to the first one in the series, Conch Town Girl. The author seems to be coming into his own, and his writing is much improved. The pace is much faster than in the first book. This book is a page turner and should hold your interest from beginning to end.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Can’t Sing or Dance by Daniel J. Barrett is about a Tom Jones who is a retired Coast Guard officer and not the Tom Jones of Las Vegas fame, thus the title, Can’t Sing or Dance. When Tom is murdered and the police say he was killing trying to sell drugs, his daughter calls Joe Traynor, now a chief warrant officer in the Coast Guard, to help clear his name. Since Tom was Joe’s mentor when he first came into the Coast Guard, Joe is determined to prove that Tom was no drug dealer. But Joe is surprised by the can of worms his investigation uncovers. It takes a whole team of investigators, and some very high tech equipment, in two different states, for Joe to get to the bottom of the situation. The Russian Mafia also comes into play, still trying to exact vengeance on Joe’s fiancée and her grandmother for the money Julie’s father stole from them some 17 years earlier. So Joe has to come up with a way to get them to back off as well.

Can’t Sing or Dance is the second book in the Conch Town Girl series, and I have to admit that I was impressed with the author’s improvement. This book is much more in the moment than the last one, much faster paced, and has a lot more action. It still has the home town community feel of the first book, but I found it much more riveting. The book has a ring of truth that tells me the author has either been in the Coast Guard, or did a tremendous amount of research. Either way, he seems to know what he’s talking about.

Chapter 1

Coast Guard Chief Warrant Officer Joe Traynor walked into his office after lunch and was welcomed by the ringing of his phone. “Hello?”

“Hi, Joe. It’s Claire Murphy.”

“Hey, Claire. How are you?”

“I’ve got some bad news.”

“What is it?”

“My father’s dead,” she said, her voice breaking. “I just had a phone call from a detective from the Orlando Police Department, Violent Crime Section. The detective’s name is Jim Butler and he’s stationed at police headquarters on South Hughey Avenue, in downtown. He said my father was involved in a drug deal that had gone bad. He said Dad was a drug dealer and was knifed to death in his apartment. They found a lot of cash–a roll of large bills that reeked of cocaine residue–and a bag of methamphetamine pills in between his mattress and box spring. My father’s no drug dealer, Joe, and now he’s dead,” she sobbed. “That detective wants me to identify the body. Can you come up and go with me, please?”

Joe was stunned. “Slow down, Claire. I barely got the fact that Tom’s dead. Where are you now?”

“I’m home” she said. “I didn’t know who else to call. I knew you and Tom were close, so you were the first one I thought of. I’ve got a list of his other friends and I was going to call the rest after I found out what happened. I don’t really know what happened and I don’t know what to ask. I’m sure Brian doesn’t either,” she said. “Joe, can you help me? Can you come up and talk to the police? Something is wrong. My father wouldn’t deal drugs but how do I prove that? Detective Butler was adamant and upset that he even had to deal with me. And that’s just not right.”

“I’ll need permission to go to Orlando from my assignment at Islamorada as head of investigations for south Florida and the Florida Keys,” Joe said. “It’s about 2:00 p.m. now, and I have to run to a meeting at the Islamorada facility. I’ll discuss the situation with Chief Warrant Officer, Jacob Cramer. I’ll contact Detective Butler and, if necessary, meet you in Orlando as soon as I get permission from my line of command.”

“Thanks, Joe. I really appreciate it. They aren’t releasing the body for a while. Orlando’s local morgue is backed up as it is. The detective said that with over 2,500 violent crimes a year in Orlando, Dad’s death can wait in line. They aren’t planning to do an in-depth autopsy for a dead drug dealer.”

After Claire had hung up, Joe took a deep breath and called Mark Silva, his best friend and fellow Coastie, still stationed in Fort Lauderdale. Joe had to leave a message on the answering machine. He didn’t expect to get Mark at home, and he didn’t want to bother him at his office. It was Mark’s day to be at the communications station headquarters, COMMSTA, in downtown Miami, for drug enforcement meetings with the feds and local law enforcement officers, up and down the Florida coast. Mark was one of the leaders of the task force.

“Mark, it’s Joe,” he told the answering machine. “Call me when you get a chance. It’s important. Thanks.”

Before his meeting with Jacob, Joe told Joan Talbot, his long-time friend and Jacob’s administrative assistant, about Tom’s death. She was horrified. She’d met Tom a few times after he retired when he’d visited the station with Joe.

“Joan, can you find out what Coast Guard facility is closest to Orlando because I want to be in on the potential investigation into Tom’s death, if possible,” Joe asked, hoping she could run interference for him on this. “I want to clear it through the chain of command.” He was in charge of all investigations for south Florida and the Keys, but not for the northern section above Palm Beach. “I don’t want to step on any toes, but I will if I have to.”

“I’ll look up the information right after the meeting,” Joan said.

They had five investigations going on at the present time and Joe was the lead in each case. It would be difficult to add an investigation that was six hours north in Orlando, but if Joe didn’t, no one else would.

Tom’s death and classification as a drug dealer, if true, would certainly give the Coast Guard a black eye and Joe wanted to fix this situation before they simply closed the file on Tom’s murder. Tom had retired from the Coast Guard in his early fifties, only a few years ago, and moved from Cape May to Orlando, to be near his daughter, Claire, and her family.

Joe thought about how to state his case to make it clear about the black eye. Police departments across the country were very reluctant to spend time and attention on investigating the death of a drug dealer. If Joe didn’t clear this up fast, the investigation would stall. Tom and his family would be tainted. And so would the Coast Guard. Joe didn’t believe Tom had anything to do with drugs. He also wanted to find out who killed him, and why. There had to be a reason. There was always a reason. Maybe not a good one, but something to point to the truth.

Joan walked down the hall to Joe’s office. “Joe, I got your information for you. We’ve several command sites up and down the coast that aren’t in our jurisdiction. However, all of those commands report directly to our own rear admiral here in Miami and then to the sector captain of the Jacksonville port. The chief warrant officer at Station Port Canaveral, Frank Cortez, reports directly to Jacksonville. I called the rear admiral’s office and explained the situation. He’ll meet with you at 0800 hours tomorrow morning. He’d just heard about the situation and he’s not pleased.”

“Thanks, Joan.”

Joe would probably be given all the time he needed because he was in charge of investigations, with a dual reporting system, first to the rear admiral in Miami and a dotted line to the Islamorada Chief Warrant Officer, Jacob Cramer. Joe went home to pack, not knowing how much time he’d need to at least clarify what had happened to Tom and what was needed from the Coast Guard, if anything.

Joe called Claire. “Hopefully, I’ll be in Orlando no later than 3:00 p.m. tomorrow.”

“Joe, don’t get a hotel. You can stay with us.”

“I wish I could do that, but until further notice, I have to remain neutral and take the investigation, if there’s to be one, where it needs to go to find the truth,” he said. “I’ll call you when I arrive and then we should go directly to Tom’s condo, if it isn’t still roped off by the police. Then we can go to the police headquarters to meet the detective in charge. Then we’ll go to the Medical Examiner’s office and identify Tom’s body if it’s not too late in the day.”

“Call me when you’re getting close and I’ll leave early from the Hollywood Studios office and pick up the kids at daycare,” Claire said.

Claire was younger than he was, Joe mused, and had a whole lot more responsibility. He didn’t know if he could’ve handled the responsibility of a family. It was something he needed to discus with his girlfriend, Julie, before long.

© 2015 by Daniel J. Barrett