No one liked Drusilla Isaacs. She spent a lifetime alienating people, as if making the most enemies was a personal goal. Now she’s dead. Shot, stabbed, and her neck broken…and that’s what the coroner can tell from a first look. It’s up to Maggie Blaine—former friend and one-time victim of the odious Drusilla—and Maggie’s partner, Jacob Brown, to figure out who, out of a seemingly endless list of suspects, would carry out such heinous acts. Their choices are varied. From Drusilla’s husbands—the former and the current—to the women in her life—her secretary, the mother of her husband’s son, or the new wife of her ex-husband. There’s also another option. A serial killer who randomly appears to insert himself into the mix. A tale of murder, gems, drugs, illicit sex, and a cast of villains who all have one thing in common—their hatred of Drusilla Isaacs.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Overkill by Sherry Fowler Chancellor, homicide detectives Maggie Blaine and her partner Jacob Brown are called to the scene of a murder, only to discover that the victim is a woman that Maggie knows—and strongly dislikes. Both detectives are dismayed to discover that the victim has been shot, poisoned, stabbed, and her neck was broken. But they are even more dismayed to learn that the woman had so many enemies that the suspect list could be endless.
Told in Chancellor’s unique and refreshing voice, this is a mystery that will keep you guessing right up to the end—a really great read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Overkill by Sherry Fowler Chancellor is the story of a woman that everyone hates—so much so that the methods employed to kill her are almost as numerous as the suspects. The poor woman was shot, stabbed, poisoned, and strangled. And the killer even went so far as to leave a note on her back stuck to the blood. The two detectives assigned to the case are Maggie Blaine and Jacob Brown, and Maggie knew the victim, disliked her, and can certainly understand why someone wanted to kill her. They have plenty of suspects, but few clues, and they don’t even know if they are looking for one killer or several.
Overkill is intriguing, charming, fast paced, and full of surprises. This one that will catch and hold your interest from the very first page.
The dead woman lay sprawled on the dry grass near the sidewalk with her neck canted to the side at an impossible angle. Blood surrounded her, puddled mostly around her head, but there was also some around her upper torso. One breast had escaped from her too-low-cut blouse, and her skirt barely covered whatever panties she might have on. A black stiletto sat a few feet away, a mate to the one on her foot. Festively painted lime green toenails on the bare one seemed to mock the horrific scene.
Detective Maggie Blaine knew the deceased well and had even once thought of her as a friend. After all the history between them, it was hard for Maggie to muster any sadness at the lady’s demise. A pang of regret for what might have been passed over her. She stepped back, her head reeling.
Her partner, Jacob Brown, took her by the elbow. “You okay, Mags?”
“Fine. I’m fine.” She adjusted the service weapon at her waist and held herself together.
“You’re pale and shaky. This isn’t your first rodeo so why the nerves?” he asked.
Maggie shook her head. “I know—sorry—I knew her.”
“You knew this woman dressed in early 1970s hooker garb? How’s that?”
“She’s an accountant. Always did wear inappropriate clothes.” Maggie tried not to smile at her partner’s characterization of Drusilla’s wardrobe. Many times she wanted to have a discussion with her former friend about professionalism.
“Should I call the captain and have her send someone else to partner me on this?”
“No, no. I’ll be all right. It’s just a bit of a shock, is all.”
Jacob looked her in the eye as if assessing her condition. “You don’t think you have a conflict in investigating?”
“Back off, Brown. I said I’m fine.” Maggie knelt down beside the body and whispered, “You probably had it coming. I’m sorry it happened anyway. I wish you’d learned sooner.”
“Excuse me, Detective.” Miguel Martinez, the medical examiner, crouched beside her. “Want to give me a chance once you’re done with the last rites?”
“Very funny, Doc.” Maggie stood and smoothed her slacks. “What do you think is the cause of death?”
“I’ll know more when I can get a better look at her at the morgue. Looks like some stab wounds and a broken neck but I’ll need to do a full workup before I know what actually killed her.”
“Anyone else on the slab or can we come by later?” Jacob asked.
“She’s the only customer today so far.” Martinez rose. “But I imagine the crime scene guys will take a while, so give me a couple of hours to get her in and start the work.” He turned and moved over to talk to the photographer.
Maggie shrugged. “Let’s do some canvassing and see if anyone saw anything.”
“Already have some patrolmen working that apartment complex over there.” Jacob pointed across the road to a set of pale blue clapboard buildings.
“Then let’s hit the other side.” Maggie took a step onto the sidewalk.
A man with tightly-curled gray hair who reeked of stale beer and vomit staggered toward her. “Hey, lady, is that Drusilla Isaacs?”
His words were slurred, but she understood them easily enough.
“I can’t confirm or deny until the next of kin is notified.”
The man spat on the ground. “No need. I’d know that bitch anywhere. Can’t say I’ll be sad to see her go.” He wheezed out a laugh that ended in a coughing fit. When he recovered, he said, “I can bet that next of kin of hers won’t care either. Other than his meal ticket being gone.”
“You know her next of kin?”
“So it is her?” He laughed again.
“What do you know? Did you see anything?” Jacob walked over to where the man stood on the side of the road.
“Didn’t see nothing here, but I can tell ye, that ole man of hers will be glad to have her gone. The old sod never wanted to marry her anyway, but she done tol’ him he’d have to move on out o’ her house if’n he didn’t ask her to be his bride. Next thing ye knew, that broad had a ring on her finger.” He leaned toward Maggie and exhaled a breath that could have knocked a bull moose on its keister. “Ye don’ look the type to be wanting to marry a man who didn’t want ye. What kind of woman would do that?”
“I’m sure I don’t know, sir, but I wasn’t aware she was married.” Maggie realized her mistake as soon as the words left her mouth. She’d just admitted she knew the victim and to a potential witness at that.
“Oh, yeah. Married they was. Miserable, but married.” The old guy snickered again then was caught up in another coughing fit. When he could speak again, he waved his hands in the air as if trying to maintain control. “But I reckon they’s all like that. Marriages, I mean.”
Maggie shook her head and glanced at her partner. “I’m going to let you interview the philosopher while I canvass.”
“Thanks. I owe you for that.” Jacob took out his notepad and pencil.
Leaving him to it, Maggie opened the screen and knocked on the door of the small Craftsman house closest to the place where Drusilla died.
A voice called out, “Wait one moment, I’m on the way.”
At the moment Maggie decided she should knock again, the wooden door opened. An elderly African American woman stood inside. She wore a bathrobe and a pair of fluffy slippers that had seen much better days. What fluff was left was bedraggled and sad. “May I help you, young lady?”
Pulling back her jacket, Maggie showed the badge at her waist to the woman and tilted her head toward the murder scene. “I’m Detective Blaine and wondered if you saw anything happening across the street. We’re checking with all the neighbors.”
The woman opened the creaky screen door. “You want to come in for some iced tea? It’s mighty hot out there.”
“No, thank you. Unless you saw something you need to tell me about. I can then sit with you to discuss it.”
The lady seemed disappointed. Perhaps she didn’t get many visitors. Maggie’s heart hurt for her if she was lonely. She knew how that could be.
“I didn’t see anything.” The woman took off her glasses. “Look at these. So thick they hurt my nose. I don’t wear them like I should. Maybe if I’d had them on, I might’ve seen something.”
“That’s all right.” Maggie turned to go.
“But I did maybe hear something.”
Maggie looked back. “Really?”
“Come on in, and I’ll tell you all about it.” The lady stepped back to let Maggie in. “I’m Hattie Simpkins.”
Not sure if Mrs. Simpkins was telling her the truth or merely wanted someone to chat with, Maggie had to take the chance the lady knew something. She followed her hostess inside.
The interior of the home was dark and dingy. Maggie supposed it was because the woman couldn’t see very well and the paneling in her living room was a deep brown.
Maybe she didn’t realize how much it needed a cleaning or even a lamp or two turned on.
Moving a small gray tabby cat aside in order to take the chair indicated by Mrs. Simpkins, Maggie sat. The cat wound itself around her ankles.
“I’ll get the tea. Don’t let Mordecai bother you too much.”
While Mrs. Simpkins was in the kitchen, Maggie picked up the kitty and petted it. “You’re a sweet thing, aren’t you?”
When the elderly lady shuffled back in with two glasses of tea, she smiled at the cat on Maggie’s lap. “That boy there is a troublemaker.”
“Seems to me he’s a sweetie.” Maggie set him on the floor and focused on her notepad as Mrs. Simpkins put one of the glasses on the table beside Maggie.
The older lady looked at the animal with sheer love reflected in her eyes. “Don’t be lettin’ that creature trick you.”
Glad she had at least an animal companion, Maggie said, “What did you hear outside today, Mrs. Simpkins?”
“I was out on my porch a couple of times. That Drusilla’s office is right down the road, and she prances by here once in a while. She walked past today two times. I heard her out there arguing with someone early this morning.”
“Did you know the person she was speaking with?”
“No. It was a man, but I have no idea who. She has that shrill voice, so I knew it was her.”
“Could you describe the man?” Maggie knew the lady was practically blind, but she had to ask the question.
“Only to say he was tall and ‘big-boned’ as my mother would have said.”
“No hair color?”
“Couldn’t tell.” Mrs. Simpkins took a sip of her tea. “But it wasn’t her husband. This was a white man.”
“Okay. Good. That’s good.” Maggie made some notes. “What about the other time you said Drusilla came by your house today. What did you hear then?”
“Just her talking on that phone she’s always on. I never saw anyone love a phone like that lady do. She paces on the sidewalk sometimes talking on that thing. Don’t know why she doesn’t stay in that office of hers, instead of being out here disturbing the peace.”
Maggie held back a laugh, as she had to agree with the woman. Back when she and Drusilla were what she thought were friends, they would sometimes go to lunch together. Drusilla was always more concerned about watching her phone for texts and calls than chatting with the person sitting at the same table with her.
“Was there anything about the conversation that you heard that you think I should know?” Maggie asked.
“I couldn’t hear it all. Something about money being owed to her, and she was going to get a lawyer and some other stuff like that. Real threatening, like.”
“Did she mention any names?”
“No, honey, she didn’t. That was all I heard. Don’t know who she was talking to.” Mrs. Simpkins took another swallow of her tea and rattled the ice. She nodded at Maggie’s still half-full glass. “You want some more?”
“No. Thank you.” Maggie flipped her notebook closed. “This helps. If you think of anything else that you heard, call me, please.” She handed Mrs. Simpkins one of her cards. “I answer this number anytime it rings.”
“Must you go so soon?”
Maggie stood. “Yes. I appreciate the tea, but I need to keep talking to people. We’ve got to find out who killed her, so I must go.”
“I hope you’ll come back sometime when you have a little time to visit.” Mrs. Simpkins walked Maggie to the door with Mordecai following his owner as she shuffled along.
“I’d love to. My next day off, I’ll come by, and you can tell me about all the people I noticed in the photos you have on the wall.”
“That would be mighty kind of you. I have to say, it sometimes gets lonely now that my children are all grown and living with their own families.” She reached down and picked up the cat. “I’m lucky to have Mordecai here.”
Maggie patted the cat’s head. “I’m glad he’s good company. I’ll be seeing you soon.”
“I wish you luck on your task finding that Drusilla’s killer. She made new enemies every day, so you have a hard case to work.” Mrs. Simpkins turned and carried her cat back inside.
Quite sure the old woman was right, Maggie turned to look for her partner.
Back at the station, Maggie and Jacob set out all their notes, as well as the canvassing officers’ notes, and began to draw a time line of what they’d discovered. The white dry-erase board was soon covered with red, green, and blue markings as they sorted through the information.
In the midst of their work, the phone on Maggie’s desk rang.
“Detective Blaine? It’s Doc Martinez. Got you a cause of death. It’s a doozy.”
“Come on down to the morgue. This you need to see.” The doctor hung up. He had to know that was the fastest way to get her down there. The man was incorrigible.
“Let’s get to the morgue. Doc’s playing games again.” Maggie grabbed her keys and poked Jacob on the arm. “Don’t dally.”
“I never dally.” He followed her out to the parking lot. “What’s the big rush?”
“He said our cause of death is a doozy. I want to see exactly what that medical term means.”
They drove the few miles to the hospital where the morgue was located and made their way to the bottom floor of the facility.
Inside the morgue, Martinez led them to the table where Drusilla lay.
Maggie had to cover her mouth. It was always hard to visit this place but when it was someone she knew on the slab it made it that much harder. True, she and Drusilla had fallen out long ago, but it was still mighty difficult to see her there with the Y-incision and the top of her skull still in the pan on the side table.
“What’s the cause of death?” she asked.
“You’re looking pale again, Blaine. You sure you want to be on this case?” Jacob asked.
“Your face is the same color as your hair. White on white isn’t your color, darling.” Jacob laughed. He leaned over the table and whispered to the coroner, “She likes to say she’s a natural blonde, but have you ever seen hair that blonde?”
“Forget my hair. What’s the cause of death?” Maggie asked.
“It’s complicated, but I think I’ve narrowed it down.” Martinez handed Maggie a piece of paper in a plastic bag. “Found this embedded in the fabric of her blouse in the back.”
She peered at the paper. It had a number of brown smudges and streaks on it that she presumed was dried blood. After she read it, she passed it to Jacob. What it said was appropriate. Maggie knew from firsthand experience.
He read it out loud. “‘Back stabber.’” Looking up at Martinez, he asked. “You found this actually on her back?”
“When the CSIs finished with the crime scene photos and rolled her over, the note was stuck to the blood on her back. Her blouse was in shreds where someone had stabbed her six times.”
“Was that the cause of death then?” Maggie asked.
“The stabbings would have eventually led to death. One of the wounds nicked her left kidney and another one hit the bottom of her heart. She was able to keep on her feet and walk out of her office.”
“Wait. This happened at her office?” Jacobs asked.
“Yes. There was blood there. The scene was inspected once we realized the attack began there. It’s kind of odd that there wasn’t a bigger blood trail. One we could see. I guess most of it was soaked into the grass.”
“We’ll need to get over there, Maggie.” Jacob touched Drusilla’s toe. “Once we’re done here, of course.”
“It was obvious at the street scene that her neck was broken. Was that the cause of death?” Maggie asked.
“Well, it hastened it along, for sure.”
“Will you get to it already? You’re never this slow at telling us a cause.” Maggie couldn’t believe how Martinez was dragging this out.
“Have you ever read that book by Agatha Christie where everyone wants the victim dead, and they all had a hand in it?” Martinez asked.
“You mean Murder on the Orient Express?” Jacob asked.
Maggie’s left eye started twitching. “Who cares about some old novel? What. Is. The. Cause. Of. Death?”
“I’m trying to tell you. There may be plenty of suspects.”
Maggie was incredulous. “So, you mean she died of more than one thing?”
“Ultimately, one thing killed her, but there were a number of things that would have before the day was over. She was stabbed, shot, poisoned, and her neck was broken. If I had to rank them, I say the broken neck did it.” Martinez patted the steel table. “It’s a tie on whether the gut shot or the poison would’ve been next. The longest one she could’ve survived was the stabbings. That would have been a slow bleed out.”
“Well, you were right about one thing,” Maggie said.
“What’s that?” Jacob asked.
Maggie let out a bark of laughter. “He said the COD was a doozy.”
“I suppose you’ll want to know all about the poison. I’ve got the lab running some tests on it. There seems to have been more than one in her system.”
“Can you give us a hint?” Jacob asked.
“Strychnine was the biggest component.”
“Good God.” Maggie paced the area beside the metal table. “Someone really hated her.”
“Looks like at least four people,” Jacob said. “We need to start talking to the husband as well as other family members.”
“And her staff at the accounting office.” Maggie followed Jacob to the door. She turned back to look at Martinez. “Email me that info on the poisons as soon as you get it.”
“I will. I’ll also let you know what evidence they get from the items they took from the stabbing scene.”
“Thanks.” Maggie walked back down the corridor with her brain spinning. How many enemies did Drusilla have? And why did they all pick the same day to try to do her in?
© 2018 by Sherry Fowler Chancellor