Good girls, it is commonly believed, are obsessed with bad boys. Usually, they get burned. Rarely do they get revenge…
Ben Cromwell—handsome, sexy, and ruthless—keeps a stable of women; picks them up the way someone picks up a ripe peach, consumes it in a few bites, and throws away the pit. This time, he chose the wrong peaches.
When Detective Sam Lagarde of the Charles Town, West Virginia State Police is called to the scene of a homicide, he instantly surmises the force he is facing is far beyond what he’s dealt with before. A head in dumpster and a pinky finger with an emerald/diamond ring attached is all he has to go by. Doggedly following lead after lead, Lagarde stumbles upon five women who all have one thing in common…
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Cromwell’s Folly by Ginny Fite, Ben Cromwell is found murdered and Sam Lagarde is assigned to solve the case. With Cromwell’s head in a dumpster and only one pinky finger wearing an emerald ring at the murder site, Lagarde doesn’t have much to go on. As the suspects mount, Lagarde discovers that Cromwell led a life of debauchery and cruelty to women. It seems everyone and their mother had a reason to want him dead. But who actually killed him? And the fact that Lagarde falls for the victim’s step-grandmother only complicates the case.
Fite writes extremely well, with a strong plot, fascinating characters, and a complicated, complex mystery. The book will keep you turning pages from the very first one.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Cromwell’s Folly by Ginny Fite is a mystery/detective story with a unique twist. Our hero, Detective Sam Lagarde, is called on to investigate a grisly murder—a head in a dumpster and a single finger with a ring on it are his only clues. But once he finds out who the victim is, his job only gets harder as it seems every woman in a fifty-mile radius has a reason to kill him. The man was slime. However, Sam has a job to do and he is determined to bring the killer to justice, regardless of how much the victim deserved his death. But is he looking for one killer or two, or even several?
Cromwell’s Folly is a well-written, suspenseful, fast-paced murder mystery that will keep you glued to the pages from beginning to end. Fite’s characters are intriguing, realistic, and very credible. You won’t know whether to root for the detective or the killer.
March 29, 2014:
Ben Cromwell was murdered in the narrow alley between the casino parking garage and the ramp to the stables behind the Charles Town racetrack. Murdered is the nice word for it. Slaughtered is more apt. Eviscerated. Chopped into pieces scattered in a ten-mile radius from the murder scene that had been carelessly scuffed over with dirt, straw, and cedar chips before anyone realized that spot might be critical to an investigation.
It looked like someone really hated Cromwell–maybe several someones. It also looked like they didn’t care if anyone knew about Cromwell’s murder. Most of the body parts were found within a week of the police realizing that he’d been murdered–and not just disappeared on a betting binge into a casino so dark and smoky that individual faces couldn’t be made out on the omnipresent camera monitors.
Cromwell had been reported missing by his grandmother, who waited the required thirty-six hours from the evening she became anxious about him to report it. She knew from experience the police would tell her to wait. Even when she reported him missing, she knew the police weren’t going to jump on it. Cromwell’s absence just meant this time local deputies weren’t going to have to pull him out of a bar where he’d started a fight, arrest him for dealing, or haul him off a street corner where he had collapsed in a drunken stupor. To the police, Cromwell was a nuisance arrest, an annoying liar they’d have to cuff and interrogate and transport–more trouble than he was worth. He had been in the regional jail so often the guards who drew duty in the visitors’ area knew his grandmother on sight. His grandmother was so accustomed to the visitor’s drill that she simply stored her things in the assigned locker, looped the key around her finger, walked into the glass enclosed box, put her feet in the outline on the floor, and raised her arms for the ritual wanding and pat down without being told.
Detective Sam Lagarde, who spent much breath telling folks who’d just met him that his last name wasn’t laggard, dug around in the dirt with the toe of his shoe at the location where the sheriff had said the murder occurred. It didn’t matter that he was messing up the crime scene. It had been driven on and walked on by hundreds of people, a few dogs, as many cats, and some horses before local deputies from the county sheriff’s office figured out this was the spot where the head they found in a dumpster behind the spa on Charles Street came off a body. That was some pretty good detecting. There wasn’t any blood trail. Any drops of blood right here were contaminated or could have come from a hundred other sources. The sheriff would never have found this spot if a stable hand hadn’t accidentally dropped her glove here. She stooped to pick it up and found the guy’s right pinky sporting an emerald and gold ring engraved, Forever Yours.
Strange that the murderer didn’t notice the finger with the ring was missing. The murder must not have been about robbery or even money. What robber would have left a ring that looked like it was worth a grand? Lagarde imagined a large box of heavy-duty contractor clean-up plastic bags brought to the butchering. It was an organized project. Well planned. Nothing spontaneous about it. Pieces of Cromwell must have been carted away in all directions at the same time. Lagarde could imagine body parts flung into dark green bags being tossed into dumpsters all over the county. Something was bound to get lost in the flurry. They were still missing his left foot, his left ring finger, and the rest of his right hand. Maybe someone was keeping souvenirs. Maybe they needed to widen their search of dumpsters.
First the county sheriff’s office had been called in to help the Charles Town Police Department that was flagged by the 911 dispatcher who took the shaken spa owner’s call. Charles Town, a city of slightly more than five-thousand people, was not ready for a crime like this. Laid out on eighty acres by George’s younger brother Charles Washington in the late eighteenth century, there were sleepy days when the town often seemed as if it hadn’t changed since Jefferson County was still part of Virginia before the Civil War. To compensate for local inexperience, the state police were added to the murder investigation team, as if they were any better at reading drops of blood like tea leaves.
Truth be told, local police did not want this job. Their hard-pressed staff had enough to do with small time thieves, shoplifters, and drug dealers. The state had the forensic lab and it was clear they were going to need all the pieces they could uncover to solve this crime. The DNA work alone to match the body parts so they could be sure they had only one victim was making the FBI lab in Maryland to which they sent the samples work overtime. The Bureau of Criminal Investigations, part of WV State Police operations where Lagarde was assigned, took charge of the case.
Lagarde caught the case because it was his turn, pure and simple. Nobody in their right mind would have volunteered for this. There wasn’t a great deal of pressure to find Cromwell’s killer, or killers, but the captain made it crystal clear to Lagarde that he had to solve the case. He was the right guy for that. He had a reputation for being dogged, if not particularly brilliant. Dogged was okay with Lagarde. Dogged got you to retirement, which at sixty, he was definitely looking forward to enjoying very soon.
Lagarde squatted, turned his eyes away from his feet, and looked slowly around the area. The stables were low, narrow, fifty-foot-long clapboard structures painted a light yellow with simple gabled roofs hanging out beyond the walls of the stable. Wooden awnings that were propped up at an angle, if a horse was stabled there, covered the windows every fifteen feet. A few were open today. There were several alleyways, one between the two sets of eight stables on each side, and one on either end of the series of buildings, which were wide enough for two horses being led by grooms to pass each other without touching. The entire area was fenced in and a cement ramp led from the casino parking lot into the enclosed area. The stables supported year-round thoroughbred racing on the track at night. Most horses came for a race or two and the next morning were walked into their trailers and hauled out to the next track or back to the farm. A few owners stabled several horses here for longer periods. The purses at this track weren’t big, but gamblers could still lose their shirts and owners could lose their horses. Only seventy-five miles from Washington, DC and Baltimore, Maryland, the Charles Town racetrack was a place visiting gamblers put their money down on a horse every night. Not for nothing, there was a pawn shop right across the street from the track.
For no one to have seen the attack, Lagarde reasoned, it must have been night, late at night, well past the time horses were put up in their stalls, after night racing and trainers and stable hands had gone home. It would have been darker in this area, a spot that didn’t benefit from either the casino parking garage lights or the quieter lights around the stables. Someone would have had to wait near the closest stable, flush up against the wall, watching for the guy to walk down the ramp into the fence-enclosed area to jump him. Or maybe someone lured Cromwell to the spot. Otherwise, why wouldn’t he just go to his car in the garage? Maybe he parked in the stable employee parking lot because he was cheap. Maybe he was meeting someone here. A car parked in the area would not have aroused any suspicion. The police had yet to find a cell phone or Cromwell’s clothes, or a wallet. If someone took his clothes, why not the expensive pinky ring? Was it a drug buy gone bad? Some kind of mob hit? Not the kind of crime we’re accustomed to in this town. He added to the list of his questions. There were no bullets in the pieces of the victim they had located so far. That meant the murder was up close and personal. Someone had been covered in Cromwell’s blood. What did the killer do with his own clothes, the weapon? The medical examiner said there were no signs that Cromwell had been strangled before being carved up. And the carving had been precise, done by someone who knew their way around the right tools. When they found the trunk of his body, all his internal organs were missing. He had been gutted like a hunter would gut a deer after a kill. Cromwell was surprised, overcome, knocked down. There might have been a scuffle. It happened somewhere between three a.m. when the casino night shift went off duty and five a.m. for there to have been enough dark to cover the butchering and to cut down on the possibility of witnesses for the open air murder. It would have taken a while for one person to completely dismember Cromwell.
Lagarde was glad they’d found the head, though he was sorry for the young woman who found it in the dumpster when she took out the spa’s trash. She apparently screamed for an hour, and was still shaking when he talked to her three days later. They had been able to run the dead guy’s head shot and find him on the motor vehicle database. The address on Cromwell’s driver’s license was no good. The sheriff had a deputy run up there to notify next of kin. Some family named Goode lived in that trailer up on the mountain, and they had no idea who Cromwell was. But they were renters, and it was likely Cromwell had stayed in the trailer before they moved into it. A quick check of criminal records showed that Cromwell had been picked up for possession with intent to sell a few times and did a two-year stint for burglary at the state pen. He’d been a regular at the regional jail, six months at a time, on and off, for violating his various probations. It was likely he had gotten away with a few other bad acts that no one could pin on him. None of the many addresses on his sheet panned out. The guy must have been shacking up with someone.
It was two weeks before they put the grandmother’s missing report together with the murder victim. The deputy who did the notification told Lagarde that Cromwell’s grandmother had put her hand to her chest, exhaled quickly, and said, “So that’s that. I knew it would come to something like this.” She didn’t shed a tear, the deputy said.
Lagarde stirred the dirt with the tip of his latex-gloved finger, more to help him think than to find anything. He touched something hard, metal. He looked down, carefully cleared the area the way an archaeologist might clear dirt from an ancient pot shard at a dig, and saw an earring, a gold hoop with a self-closing back. His first thought was that a woman lost it in some passionate clinch in the dark. Then he thought again. Maybe what he had on his hands was a crime of passion. He held the earring up to the light. Sun glinted off a beveled surface. The earring had a certain heft. It’s expensive, solid gold. Not exactly the kind of jewelry a lady would wear to a murder. Unless she was so rich that this was her weekend warrior accessory. He would have to conjugate a whole other set of verbs. This murder was not about a gambling debt or drugs.
© 2015 by Ginny Fite